Justice Department Settles Fair Housing Lawsuit Against Mississippi Newspaper
WASHINGTON – A Gulfport, Miss., newspaper has agreed to pay $15,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department alleging that the newspaper published advertisements for housing that discriminated against families with children, the Justice Department announced today.
The Justice Department’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in December 2010. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Penny Pincher, a weekly want-ad newspaper distributed along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act or denied rights protected by the act by accepting and publishing 10 advertisements for rental housing that stated illegal preferences against families with children.
“Housing discrimination against families with children is a problem that newspapers must not perpetuate by publishing discriminatory advertising,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Today’s settlement shows our commitment to enforcement of fair housing laws that protect families with children.”
“Protecting families with children from discrimination on the basis of familial status is one of the basic tenets of the Fair Housing Act,” said John Dowdy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. “Our office is committed to ensuring that media outlets such as newspapers do not run ads which violate that principle. Aggressive enforcement of the Fair Housing Act to prevent discrimination against families with children remains a priority of my office.”
“Newspaper ads that discriminate against families with children are illegal and unacceptable,” said John Trasviña, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD and the Department of Justice will ensure that publications fulfill their obligation under the Fair Housing Act to reject discriminatory advertisements that limit housing opportunities for families with children.”
This lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed with HUD by a fair housing group and a woman with three children who was searching for housing for her family. The woman’s search led her to Penny Pincher, in which she read an ad offering a house for rent with the proviso, “no children.” She contacted the fair housing group, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center, which conducted testing of the property advertised and monitored the advertisements published by Penny Pincher. After HUD investigated the complaints, it issued three charges of discrimination, and the matters were referred to the Justice Department.
Under the settlement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court, Penny Pincher will pay $10,000 in damages to Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center, $1,500 in damages to the individual affected by the ad and $3,500 in a civil penalty to the United States. The settlement also requires Penny Pincher to adopt a non-discrimination policy, to provide its employees with fair housing training, and to provide periodic reports to the Justice Department. The case continues against other defendants.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt . Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.