On September 11, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the settlement of a sexual harassment case brought against a California landlord accused of sexually harassing over 25 tenants. As part of the settlement, landlord Rawland Leon Sorensen will pay $2.13 million in monetary damages and civil penalties.
According to the Justice Department’s press release announcing the settlement:
The department’s complaint alleges that Sorensen sexually harassed the women by making unwelcome sexual comments and advances, exposing his genitals to women tenants, touching women without their consent, granting and denying housing benefits based on sex and taking adverse actions against women who refused his sexual advances. Sorensen has operated his rental business for more than 30 years. This represents the largest monetary settlement ever agreed to in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the Justice Department under the Fair Housing Act.
In addition to paying damages and penalties, Mr. Sorensen will be required to hire an independent manager to manage his rental properties and will have strict limits on his ability to have contact with current and future tenants.
To read the Justice Department’s press release regarding the case, click here.
On August 23, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of North Carolina announced the settlement of a lawsuit concerning North Carolina’s inadequate provision of housing for people with mental illness. The settlement is designed to ensure that North Carolina’s mental health service system is in compliance with federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The case arose from a complaint filed by Disability Rights North Carolina in June 2010 alleging that the State was disproportionately placing individuals with mental illness in Adult Care Homes (ACH) rather than in more integrated community settings, as required by federal law. As a result of that complaint, on July 28, 2011, the DOJ issued a finding that North Carolina had “fail[ed] to provide services to individuals with mental illness in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs in violation of the ADA,” and that “[r]eliance on unnecessary institutional settings violates the civil rights of people with disabilities.”
According to a Justice Department fact sheet about the August 2012 settlement,
Under the Agreement, over the next eight years, North Carolina’s system will expand community-based services and supported housing that promote inclusion and independence and enable people with mental illness to participate fully in community life.
The Agreement will transform North Carolina’s mental health system from one that is heavily reliant on large, institutional settings, to one that is focused on providing community-based services and housing that enable individuals to live, work, and participate fully in community life.
The Agreement provides community-based supported housing to 3,000 individuals unnecessarily segregated in, or at risk of entry into, adult care homes.
The Agreement also provides thousands of people with mental illness access to critical community-based mental health services – including Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, crisis services and supported employment services. The State will also implement a person-centered discharge planning process to help individuals transition to the community and a pre-admission screening process to prevent individuals from becoming unnecessarily institutionalized.
To read the settlement agreement and the complaint, visit the DOJ’s Olmstead/ADA page here. To read Disability Rights NC’s press release regarding the settlement, click here.
A new study by the Equal Rights Center, based in Washington, D.C., found widespread discrimination against the deaf in the rental housing market. The report, available here, found that 45% of deaf or hard of hearing individuals who used telecommunications relay service (TRS) to contact a potential landlord or other housing provider experienced discriminatory treatment while seeking rental housing in the greater Washington, D.C. area.
The types of discrimination uncovered included housing providers misrepresenting the availability of housing, quoting higher rents, stating different rental requirements, as well as hanging up on a deaf individual and then refusing to answer subsequently placed calls using TRS.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) both prohibit discrimination based on disability, as do many state and local anti-discrimination laws. As the report notes, “Federal courts have held that housing providers violate the FHA by refusing to accept TRS calls from people with disabilities when the housing provider accepts standard telephone calls.”
On July 12, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $175 million settlement — the second largest fair lending settlement in the department’s history — to resolve allegations that Wells Fargo Bank engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in its mortgage lending from 2004 through 2009.
Under the settlement, Wells Fargo will provide$125 million in compensation for wholesale borrowers who were steered into subprime mortgages or who paid higher fees and rates than white borrowers because of their race or national origin and $50 million in direct down payment assistance to borrowers in communities around the country where the DOJ identified large numbers of discrimination victims and which were hard hit by the housing crisis.
Wells Fargo is the largest residential home mortgage originator in the United States.
According to the DOJ’s press release announcing the settlement:
Wells Fargo has [also] agreed to conduct an internal review of its retail mortgage lending and will compensate African-American and Hispanic retail borrowers who were placed into subprime loans when similarly qualified white retail borrowers received prime loans. Compensation paid to any retail borrowers identified in the review process will be in addition to the $125 million to compensate wholesale borrowers who were victims of discrimination.
In its complaint, the Justice Department had alleged that
between 2004 and 2008, Wells Fargo discriminated by steering approximately 4,000 African-American and Hispanic wholesale borrowers, as well as additional retail borrowers, into subprime mortgages when non-Hispanic white borrowers with similar credit profiles received prime loans. All the borrowers who were allegedly discriminated against were qualified for Wells Fargo mortgage loans according to Well Fargo’s own underwriting criteria.
To read the DOJ’s press release regarding the settlement, click here.
On June 25, 2012, the Justice Department announced its largest-ever disability-based housing discrimination settlement fund to resolve allegations that JPI Construction L.P. and six other related entities based in Irving, Texas, discriminated on the basis of disability in the design and construction of multifamily housing complexes throughout the United States.
In a press release announcing the settlement, the Justice Department stated:
Under the settlement, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, JPI will pay $10,250,000 into an accessibility fund to provide retrofits at properties built by JPI and to increase the stock of accessible housing in the communities where these properties are located. The settlement also requires JPI to pay a $250,000 civil penalty. This is the largest civil penalty the Justice Department has obtained in any Fair Housing Act case.
“Today’s historic settlement demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the fair housing rights of persons with disabilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Builders of multifamily housing must consider accessibility at the outset, or they risk significantly greater expense to retrofit properties. As a result of this settlement, multifamily housing complexes will be retrofitted to comply with the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and persons with physical disabilities will be afforded an equal opportunity to live in and visit these properties.”
The federal Fair Housing Act requires that multifamily housing constructed for first occupancy after March of 1991 comply with certain accessibility requirements to provide accessibility for people with mobility impairments and other disabilities. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also requires certain public accommodations, including leasing offices and other public areas located at private housing complexes, to contain accessibile features.
The lawsuit against JPI was filed in March 2009, after the Justice Department conducted an investigation and found accessibility barriers at various JPI properties. Since 1991, JPI and its affiliates built 210 multifamily properties in 26 states and the District of Columbia.
In addition to the $10.5 million payment, the settlement prohibits JPI from discriminating on the basis of disability in the future and from interfering with or preventing the retrofitting that will take place at the JPI properties.
The JPI entities that are responsible for paying the settlement amount are: JPI Construction L.P.; Multifamily Construction L.L.C.; JPI Apartment Development L.P., dba JPI Campus Quarters; Lifestyle Apartment Development Service L.L.C.; Jefferson Bend L.P., dba Jefferson at Mission Gate Apartments; Jefferson Lake Creek L.P., dba Jefferson Center Apartments; and Apartment Community Realty L.L.C.
To read the Justice Department’s press release announcing the settlement, click here.
On June 7, 2012, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that Bank of America agreed to pay up to $161,180 to settle allegations that one of the bank’s brances in San Jose, California, refused to refinance the mortgage of woman because she was on maternity leave. HUD reached the agreement with Bank of America to resolve a Fair Housing Act complaint that had been filed by the Fair Housing Council of Orange County (FHCOC).
According to the HUD press release announcing the settlement:
The woman told FHCOC, a non-profit fair housing organization funded by HUD, that in December 2009, a Bank of America agent offered her a 5% interest rate for a home refinance loan, with no costs or fees. But in January 2010, after she had applied for the loan and supplied the necessary documents, the bank allegedly refused to process her application because she was on maternity leave. In her complaint, the woman alleged that a bank agent told her that she would have to return to work full-time in order for her loan to be approved. Even after she informed the bank that she received the same rate of pay and benefits while on maternity leave, the bank would not process her application. In March 2010, the bank finally approved the woman’s application, but by that time the interest rate on her loan had increased to 5.25%, making each loan payment higher.
A Bank of America official said: “We regret our treatment of the applicant. We take our Fair Lending responsibilities very seriously and will work with HUD to ensure our customers on maternity leave are treated appropriately during the mortgage application process.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Bank of America will pay $30,000 to the woman, $16,180 to her attorney, and $15,000 to FHCOC. Bank of America will also create a $100,000 Compensation Fund to pay damages to loan applicants or borrowers who may have been denied a loan, subjected to adverse loan terms, or had their loan applications delayed because they were pregnant or on maternity leave. In addition, the bank is requiring all of its loan officers nationwide to complete annual fair lending training.
North Carolina residents who believe they have suffered discrimination are urged to contact the Fair Housing Project at (855) 797-3247.
To read a copy of the HUD press release announcing the settlement, click here.
On May 3, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote held that the Westchester County, New York, violated a 2010 consent decree designed to address racial and ethnic segregation in the County. The ruling concerned legislation in the County that would have prohibited landlords from considering a tenant’s “source of income” in making rental decisions. Under the terms of the 2010 settlement agreement, the County agreed to “promote” such legislation, which would make it unlawful for landlords to deny housing because a tenant uses a “Section 8″ voucher, Social Security, disability payments, or some other government subsidy to help in paying the rent.
In her ruling, Judge Cote held that County Executive Rob Astroino’s action in vetoing such legsilation “constituted the very opposite of what was required under the Settlement.” The court’s ruling noted:
It is also undisputed that the sole action the County Executive has taken since December 2009 in relation to the legislation he is obligated to promote is to veto it. It is unnecessary to decide the precise contours of the duty to promote that the Settlement imposed on the County. Under no reasonable understanding of the term can the County Executive be said to have discharged the obligation to promote source-of income legislation when he vetoed the legislation. The veto was an unambiguous breach of the duty to promote.
As a result of this and other violations of the consent decree, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has withheld over $12.6 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from Westchester County.
In an editorial about the latest developments, the New York Times noted:
Ultimately, this case is not just about hiding 750 units among the Tudors and glades of a county of nearly a million people. It is about doing something to end deeply embedded segregation patterns — “affirmatively furthering fair housing,” as federal law and the settlement explicitly require.
That means that instead of trying to game the settlement, Mr. Astorino should be enforcing the law. He should be taking communities to court to stop them from blocking integration through restrictive zoning. He should be promoting laws to fight rental discrimination, as the county promised, and has failed to do.
For more on the New York Times‘ coverage of the case, click here.
On May 9, 2012, the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina was awarded a $325,000 grant to allow it to continue its enforcement and education work throughout the State during 2012-2013. The one-year grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will fund legal assistance and referral services to individuals who have experienced housing discrimination, fair housing testing, education and outreach training events, and the distribution of literature in English and Spanish. Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) is one of 99 non-profit agencies across the country awarded a grant for fair housing work.
The Fair Housing Project, which is headquartered in Raleigh but operates statewide, is the only fair housing enforcement organization providing comprehensive fair housing services to residents throughout North Carolina. The Project was established in May 2011, through a previous HUD grant awarded to LANC in partnership with West Tennessee Legal Services.
In a press release announcing the award, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan stated, “It is our continued commitment to ensure that every person has equal access to housing.” Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasviña added: “We are pleased to provide the only federal grant support to private fair housing enforcement and education. Our partners are essential to ending housing discrimination.”
To contact the Fair Housing Project, call toll-free (855) 797-3247. Click here for the HUD press release announcing grant awards around the country.
On April 30, 2012, the United States Department of Justice announced the settlement of a lawsuit against the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation (MGIC) for discriminating against women on maternity leave in violation of the Fair Housing Act. According to its press release, the settlement is the DOJ’s first involving discrimination against women and families in mortgage insurance.
The case, which had been filed in July 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleged that MGIC required women on maternity leave to return to work before the company would insure their mortgages even for women who had a guaranteed right to return to work after the leave.
According to the DOJ,
The settlement, which was approved by the court [April 30, 2012], establishes a $511,250 fund to compensate 70 individuals whom the United States identified as aggrieved by the alleged discriminatory treatment between 2007 and 2010. The settlement also requires MGIC to pay a $38,750 civil penalty to the United States. The Department of Justice identified the aggrieved individuals based on its extensive review of MGIC’s mortgage application records. MGIC cooperated with the United States in turning over records during the course of settlement negotiations.
The settlement also requires MGIC to follow a number of detailed nondiscriminatory provisions in its future review of mortgage insurance applications involving women or men who are on, or have returned from, paid or unpaid leave related to the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child. The settlement also requires MGIC to monitor its treatment of applicants on leave to care for a new child, to train its employees on the requirements of the fair housing laws, and to provide nondiscrimination notices to mortgage applicants.
The DOJ’s lawsuit is separate from a private class action involving similar claims. The DOJ noted that individuals compensated as part of the DOJ settlement remain eligible to receive compensation from that class action lawsuit.
The DOJ’s press release announcing the settlement is available here.
April 11, 2012, marks the 44th anniversary of the signing of the federal Fair Housing Act. The law’s enactment came after several years of debate in Congress and was spurred by the April 4, 1968, assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The original 1968 fair housing law prohibited discrimination based on race, color, national origin, and religion. A 1974 amendment prohibited sex (gender) discrimination, including sexual harassment in housing. In 1988, Congress passed addition amendments that prohibited discrimination based on disability, and familial status (families with children).
As the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notes on their website:
The enactment of the federal Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968 came only after a long and difficult journey. From 1966-1967, Congress regularly considered the fair housing bill, but failed to garner a strong enough majority for its passage. However, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson utilized this national tragedy to urge for the bill’s speedy Congressional approval. Since the 1966 open housing marches in Chicago, Dr. King’s name had been closely associated with the fair housing legislation. President Johnson viewed the Act as a fitting memorial to the man’s life work, and wished to have the Act passed prior to Dr. King’s funeral in Atlanta.
Another significant issue during this time period was the growing casualty list from Vietnam. The deaths in Vietnam fell heaviest upon young, poor African-American and Hispanic infantrymen. However, on the home front, these men’s families could not purchase or rent homes in certain residential developments on account of their race or national origin. Specialized organizations like the NAACP, the GI Forum and the National Committee Against Discrimination In Housing lobbied hard for the Senate to pass the Fair Housing Act and remedy this inequity. Senators Edward Brooke and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts argued deeply for the passage of this legislation. In particular, Senator Brooke, the first African-American ever to be elected to the Senate by popular vote, spoke personally of his return from World War II and inability to provide a home of his choice for his new family because of his race.
With the cities rioting after Dr. King’s assassination, and destruction mounting in every part of the United States, the words of President Johnson and Congressional leaders rang the Bell of Reason for the House of Representatives, who subsequently passed the Fair Housing Act. Without debate, the Senate followed the House in its passage of the Act, which President Johnson then signed into law.
Read more about the history of the Fair Housing Act on HUD’s website here.