Justice Department Wins Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Against Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah
A federal jury in Phoenix returned a verdict today finding that the towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, and their joint water company systematically discriminated against individuals who are not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) in the provision of housing, utility and policing services in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Prior to the jury verdict, the parties reached an agreement that the defendants will pay $1.6 million to resolve the monetary claim under the Fair Housing Act.
The jury also issued an advisory verdict on the Department of Justice’s claims under Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Because this statute (in contrast to the Fair Housing Act) does not include a right to a jury trial, the jury’s verdict as to the Section 14141 claim is advisory and may be considered by the court, but is not binding. In its advisory verdict, the jury found that the Colorado City Marshal’s Office, the cities’ joint police department, operated as an arm of the FLDS church in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment; engaged in discriminatory policing in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the establishment clause; and subjected individuals to unlawful stops, seizures and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Because these advisory findings are not binding, the Department of Justice’s Section 14141 claim remains under consideration by the district court judge, who will issue a ruling on whether the defendants engaged in these constitutional violations, and if so, what relief is appropriate.
“Today’s verdict reaffirms that America guarantees all people equal protection and fair treatment, regardless of their religious beliefs,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “When communities deny their residents critical services simply because of where they worship, they violate our laws and threaten the defining values of religious freedom and tolerance that are the foundation of our country.”
This was the department’s first lawsuit to include claims under both the Fair Housing Act and Section 14141, the federal statute that allows the Attorney General to address patterns or practices of police misconduct.
This matter was litigated by attorneys from the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section and the Special Litigation Section. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt.