Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination at Condominium in Methuen, Massachusetts
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has reached an agreement with Stonecleave Village Association, Inc. to resolve allegations that Stonecleave engaged in a pattern or practice of familial status discrimination by imposing excessive fines on residents with children for alleged violations of Stonecleave’s rules. The settlement still must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro.
According to the department’s findings, Stonecleave fined families with children more than $500 when their children played games, such as wiffle ball and tag, on the complex's outdoor common area, yet fined other residents only $10 for similar rules violations. The United States also alleged that Stonecleave retaliated against one mother who filed a complaint of discrimination by charging her $1,000 to cover the costs of hiring an attorney to defend against her complaint. Five families with children filed complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) . After an investigation, HUD determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that Stonecleave had violated the Fair Housing Act and referred the matter to the Justice Department.
“There is no excuse for violating our nation’s fair housing laws and imposing fees on families with children,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of Fair Housing laws along with its partners at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
“This settlement should serve as a warning to condo associations across the Commonwealth that discrimination against residents with children is unacceptable,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “My office remains committed to vigorously prosecuting all types of civil rights violations in Massachusetts.”
“Forcing families to pay so their children can play is unacceptable and illegal. We thank our Department of Justice partners in vigorously enforcing the Fair Housing Act,” said John Trasvina, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
Under the terms of the settlement, Stonecleave has agreed to pay $130,000 to the victims and $20,000 in civil penalties to the United States. In addition to the $150,000 payment, the settlement also requires Stonecleave to obtain training on the Fair Housing Act for the condo board members.
Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department. 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.usdoj.gov/crt . Persons who believe they have experienced or witnessed unlawful housing discrimination may 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. More information about the Fair Housing Act can also be found at www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing or www.hud.gov/fairhousing .