DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA VIOLATED REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUIREMENTS OF THE FAIR HOUSING ACT
United States v. District of Columbia (D.D.C.)
On March 14, 2008, the court in United States v. District of Columbia (D.D.C.) issued an opinion and order declaring that the District violated the Fair Housing Act by twice failing to grant requests by Father Flanagan's Boys & Girls Homes ("Boys Town") for reasonable accommodations regarding building permits for four group homes, based on the disabilities of the prospective residents. The Court enjoined the District from further violations of the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Act. The United States filed this lawsuit in 2004, challenging the District's treatment of Boys Town's applications for building and construction permits for homes for youth with disabilities in a commercial zone of Southeast D.C. and certain District zoning regulations. In addition to the reasonable accommodation claims recently decided by the Court, the United States' also alleged: (1) that the District intentionally discriminated against Boys Town (these claims produced a hung jury after a 2006 trial); (2) that the District's certificate of occupancy requirements discriminated against certain group homes (the District mooted these claims in January 2008 by amending the challenged ordinance); and (3) that certain District zoning ordinances imposed illegal restrictions on housing for youth with disabilities (the Court held that another zoning code provision makes the challenged provisions inapplicable to housing for persons with disabilities and therefore found no violation).
BOCA RATON, FLORIDA ENJOINED FROM ENFORCING PARTS OF ORDINANCE THAT VIOLATE FAIR HOUSING ACT
United States v. City of Boca Raton (S.D. Fla.)
On March 13, 2008, the court in United States v. City of Boca Raton (S.D. Fla.) issued an order enjoining the city from enforcing part of an ordinance that targeted substance abuse treatment facilities ("SATFs") for more restrictive treatment than comparable housing for non-disabled persons. The United States contended that the ordinance placed restrictions on a particular type of housing for persons in recovery from alcohol or drug dependency without a legally sufficient justification. Under the court's ruling, the city cannot prevent licensed SATFs with separate housing and treatment components from operating their residential components in residential multifamily and other zoning districts. As a result, one such facility currently operating in Boca Raton will be able to continue to operate its residential component in a multifamily district and will not have to obtain a different license from the state that the city deemed more acceptable.
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SETTLES RACE DISCRIMINATION CASE AGAINST MILWAUKEE RE/MAX OFFFICE, REAL ESTATE AGENT AND HOMEOWNER
United States v. Halvorsen (E.D. Wis.)
On February 29, 2008, the United States filed a consent order in United States v. Halvorsen (E.D. Wis.). The complaint, filed in October 2006, alleged that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act when they refused to negotiate for the sale of a single family house to Tammy Doss, an African American woman, who is a principal in the Milwaukee public schools. Specifically, the complaint alleged that Defendant Halvorsen asked Margaret Silkey, a real estate agent who was attempting to help Ms. Doss find a house, whether her client was black and told Ms. Silkey that she did not want to sell her house to black persons. The complaint alleged that Ms. Halvorsen also told Defendant Hasenstab, the real estate agent with Defendant RE/MAX 100 whom she retained to list her home, that she did not want to sell her home to black persons. When the Defendants learned that Ms. Silkey was attempting to schedule an appointment to show the home to her client, they amended the listing agreement to exclude Ms. Silkey from showing the home. Ms. Silkey was not able to show the home to Ms. Doss, and the Defendants sold the home to a white person.
Under the consent order, the Defendants will pay $30,000 to Ms. Doss and $5,000 to Margaret Silkey. The order also enjoins the Defendants from further discrimination, requires Defendant Hasenstab to receive fair housing training, and requires Defendant RE/MAX 100 to train its agents and report discrimination complaints to the United States. The consent order will remain in effect for three years.
The case was referred to the Division after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received a complaint, conducted an investigation and issued a charge of discrimination. Press Release
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SETTLES RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT AGAINST WAUKEGAN, ILLINOIS
United States v. City of Waukegan, Ill., (N.D. Ill.)
On February 19, 2008, the United States filed a lawsuit and consent orderin United States v. City of Waukegan, Ill., (N.D. Ill.), resolving allegations that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) by treating religious assemblies less favorably than similar non-religious assemblies in several city zoning districts. The court entered the consent decree on February 25, 2008.
The complaint alleged that the city had imposed and implemented zoning code provisions that are more restrictive for houses of worship than for nonreligious assemblies and institutions such as clubs, lodges and meeting halls, in violation of RLUIPA. Under the terms of the consent order, the city must amend its zoning code within 60 days so that the code does not treat religious assemblies and institutions differently from comparable non-religious assemblies or institutions. The consent order also requires the city to provide training for personnel on RLUIPA's requirements and post notices about the consent order at various locations. The consent order will remain in effect for three years. Press Release
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SETTLES DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT AGAINST VIRGINIA BEACH NIGHTCLUB OWNER
United States v. Barry Davis and Anchor Inn, LLC, d/b/a Kokoamos Island Bar & Grill (E.D. Va.)
On March 10, 2008, the Court entered a consent decree in United States v. Barry Davis and Anchor Inn, LLC, d/b/a Kokoamos Island Bar & Grill (E.D. Va.), a Title II race discrimination case. The complaint, filed on September 20, 2007, alleged that the owners and managers of Kokoamos Island Bar & Grill (Kokoamos) discriminated against African-American patrons in a place of public accommodation by implementing a discriminatory dress code targeting African-Americans and by applying the dress code in a discriminatory manner.
Under the terms of the consent decree, the Defendant Barry Davis and Anchor Inn, LLC, d/b/a Kokoamos is required to comply with federal law by not discriminating against patrons on the basis of race; to post and enforce a non-discriminatory dress code policy; to implement a system for receiving and investigating complaints of discrimination; and to conduct monitoring to ensure that Kokoamos' employees are acting in a non-discriminatory manner consistent with federal law. Press Release
United States v. Pine Properties, Inc., et al. (D. Mass.) OPERATION HOME SWEET HOME: JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SETTLES MASSACHUSETTS DISCRIMINATION CASE ON BEHALF OF ASIAN-AMERICANS
On January 22, 2008, the Court entered a consent decree resolving United States v. Pine Properties Inc., et al. (D. Mass.), a case alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin. The complaint, filed on September 26, 2007, alleged that the defendants, who own and manage multifamily housing in Lowell, Massachusetts, discriminated against Cambodian-Americans based on national origin by (1) telling Cambodian-American persons that their employment and/or credit had to be verified before they could see available dwellings while at the same time taking white persons to see available dwellings without first verifying their employment or credit; and/or (2) telling Cambodian-American persons that they had to have a separate appointment to see available dwellings while at the same time taking white persons to see available dwellings immediately, with no prior appointment. This case was developed based on evidence developed through the Department's fair housing testing program, part of the Division's "Operation Home Sweet Home" program.
Under the Consent Decree, the defendants will pay up to $114,000 to compensate victims, pay a $44,000 civil penalty to the U.S. government, establish and follow non-discriminatory tenancy procedures, undergo fair housing training, and file reports with the government. Press Release
United States v. Tanski (N.D.N.Y.) JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SETTLE HOUSING DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT WITH ALBANY, NEW YORK, DEVELOPERS
On January 22, 2008, the Court entered a consent decree in United States v. Tanski, et al. (N.D.N.Y.) to settle its lawsuit against developers Bruce Tanski, the Bruce Tanski Construction and Development Company, Michael Dennis, and the Mountain Ledge Development Corporation. The complaint, filed on June 21, 2004, and amended for the second time on January 20, 2006, alleged that the various defendants failed to design and construct 362 ground-floor apartments and the public and common areas at the McGregor Village Apartments in Wilton, N.Y., and several other properties in accordance with the accessibility provisions of the Fair Housing Act. In addition to the claim brought on behalf of the HUD complainant, the United States' complaint added an allegation that the defendants' conduct constitutes a pattern and practice of discrimination and a denial of rights to a group of persons.
The consent decree will require the defendants to eliminate steps at ground-floor units and retrofit the apartments; to retrofit public and common use areas; and to pay $155,000 in damages to persons identified by the government as having been harmed by these inaccessible features, and $20,000 in civil penalties to the government. In addition, the settlement requires the defendants to comply with federal accessibility requirements in all future construction of apartment complexes; to report to the government on any future construction projects; and to undergo training on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The consent decree will remain in effect for four (4) years after the date of its entry or eighteen (18) months after the date that the last retrofit is completed. Press Release
United States v. Luke (C.D. Cal.) JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SETTLES HOUSING DISCRIMINATION CASE WITH ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, LANDLORDS
On March 5, 2008, the Court entered a consent decree resolving United States v. Luke (C.D. Cal.), a case alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin. The complaint, filed on November 16, 2006, and amended on September 17, 2007, alleged that the Defendants discriminated against Hispanics in favor of Vietnamese people by denying or making housing unavailable to them in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(a) and by making statements indicating preferences on the basis of national origin in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604. In addition to the claim brought on behalf of the HUD complainants, the United States' complaint also alleged that the Defendants conduct constituted a pattern or practice of discrimination and a denial of rights to a group of persons.
Under the Consent Decree, the defendants must pay $174,000 in damages to private plaintiffs and $59,344 to counsel for private plaintiffs in the form of attorney's costs, fees and litigation expenses. Defendants must also pay $30,000 in civil penalties to the United States, and $7,500 in damages to an additional aggrieved individual. Along with these payments, the defendants are also required to attend fair housing training, to adopt a nondiscrimination policy, and to keep certain records.
The case was referred to the Division after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received multiple complaints, conducted an investigation and issued a charge of discrimination. Press Release
United States v. First National Bank of Pontotoc (N.D. Miss.) JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SETTLES SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWSUIT AGAINST MISSISSIPPI BANK AND FORMER BANK VICE PRESIDENT
On November 7, 2007, the Court entered a consent order in United States v. First National Bank of Pontotoc (N.D. Miss.), the first sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the Justice Department under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). The lawsuit, filed on April 27, 2006, and amended in July 2007 to include claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), alleged that William W. Anderson Jr., a former vice president of the First National Bank of Pontotoc, used his position with the Bank to sexually harass female borrowers and applicants for credit. Andersonç´ conduct included making offensive comments, engaging in unwanted sexual touching, and requesting or demanding sexual favors from female customers in connection with the extension of credit, over a period of years before his employment with the bank ended in May 2004. The lawsuit also alleged that the bank was liable for those actions. The consent decree will require the defendants to pay $250,000 to 15 already identified victims, up to $50,000 for any additional victims, and $50,000 to the United States as a civil penalty. Under the settlement, employees of the First National Bank of Pontotoc are required to receive training on the prohibition against sexual harassment under federal fair lending laws. The agreement also requires the bank to implement both a sexual harassment policy and a procedure by which an individual may file a sexual harassment complaint against any employee or agent of the First National Bank of Pontotoc. The consent decree will remain in effect for five years. Press Release.
United States v. Thomas J. Fischer and Dawn Fischer (D. Minn.) JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SETTLES SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWSUIT AGAINST RED WING, MINNESOTA, LANDLORDS
On October 18, 2007, the United States filed a proposed consent order resolving United States v. Thomas J. Fischer and Dawn Fischer (D. Minn.) The complaint, filed August 12, 2005, alleged that the defendants, the owners of several residential rental properties in Red Wing, Minnesota, engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination based on sex, including severe, pervasive, and unwelcome sexual harassment. The complaint alleged the conduct included unwanted verbal sexual advances, unwanted sexual touching, and entering the apartments of female tenants without permission or notice. The lawsuit also named Fischer's wife, Dawn Fischer, who co-owned the properties and alleged that as an owner she was liable for Fischer's discriminatory conduct.
The consent order, which still must be approved by the court, requires the defendants to pay $210,000 to six former tenants whom Fischer sexually harassed and $30,000 in a civil penalty to the United States as well as injunctive relief. The agreement also prohibits the Fischers from engaging in future discrimination and requires them to retain an independent manager to manage their rental properties. The consent order remains in effect for five years. Press Release
OTHER RECENT DEVELOPMENTS