A new Fair Housing Act sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the owner and operator of rental properties in the Pulaski County, Kentucky area reminds business owners and leaders that sexual harassment and other federal civil rights and other discrimination and retaliation prohibitions apply to more than employment practices. Similar provisions also generally apply to businesses dealings with vendors, customers, and others in the course of its operations. Implementing appropriate controls to ensure compliance with these nondiscrimination rules critical to prevent exposure to substantial liabilities under federal law.
Federal Civil Rights Laws’ Broad Reach
Federal civil rights statutes generally apply to essentially any entity that receives an award of federal financial assistance — regardless of which federal agency awards the grant or cooperative agreement — and encompass the “program or activity” funded in whole or in part with the federal financial assistance.
I’m the case of housing and related lending, for instance, they Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) prohibits discrimination in housing based on sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability and familial status. The FHA makes it illegal discrimination to take any of the following actions because of race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, familial status, or national origin:
- Refuse to rent or sell housing;, to negotiate for housing; or otherwise make housing unavailable
- Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling;
- Provide a person different housing services or facilities;
- Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale or rental;
- Make, print or publish any notice, statement or advertisement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation or discrimination;
- Impose different sales prices or rental charges for the sale or rental of a dwelling;
- Use different qualification criteria or applications, or sale or rental standards or procedures, such as income standards, application requirements, application fees, credit analyses, sale or rental approval procedures or other requirements;
- Evict a tenant or a tenant’s guest;
- Harass a person;
- Fail or delay performance of maintenance or repairs;
- Limit privileges, services or facilities of a dwelling;
- Discourage the purchase or rental of a dwelling;
- Assign a person to a particular building or neighborhood or section of a building or neighborhood;
- For profit, persuade, or try to persuade, homeowners to sell their homes by suggesting that people of a particular protected characteristic are about to move into the neighborhood (blockbusting);
- Refuse to provide or discriminate in the terms or conditions of homeowners insurance because of the race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, familial status, or national origin of the owner and/or occupants of a dwelling; or
- Deny access to or membership in any multiple listing service or real estate brokers’ organization.
It also is illegal discrimination to take any of the following actions in mortgage lending based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, familial status, or national origin:
- Refuse to make a mortgage loan or provide other financial assistance for a dwelling;
- Refuse to provide information regarding loans;
- Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees;
- Discriminate in appraising a dwelling;
- Condition the availability of a loan on a person’s response to harassment; and
- Refuse to purchase a loan.
Furthermore, the FHA also makes it illegal to:
- Harass persons because of race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, familial status, or national origin;
- Threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise the right; or
- Retaliate against a person who has filed a fair housing complaint or assisted in a fair housing investigation.
Added prohibitions and protections also apply to disability discrimination. Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations and allow reasonable modifications that may be necessary to allow persons with disabilities to enjoy their housing.
New FHA Lawsuit Against Landlord Bell
The Justice Department lawsuit filed as part of its Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative today alleges Danny T. Bell sexually harassed numerous female tenants since at least 2010. According to the complaint, Bell made repeated and unwelcome sexual comments to female tenants, entered the homes of female tenants without their consent, touched female tenants’ bodies without their consent, offered reduced or free rent in exchange for sexual contact and took adverse housing-related actions against female tenants who refused his sexual advances. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate those harmed by the alleged harassment, a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest and a court order barring future discrimination.
The Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative launched by the Justice Department in October 2017 is led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country. The initiative seeks to address and raise awareness about sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers and other people who have control over housing. Since launching the initiative, the department has filed 30 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing and recovered over $9.8 million for victims of such harassment.
The Justice Department made a point of emphasizing its commitment to enforce sexual harassment and other prohibitions against discrimination in retaliation and housing when it announced today’s lawsuit.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe at home, and sexual harassment in housing destroys that feeling of security,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act to protect tenants from harassment and retaliation by their landlords.”
With the current Administration’s emphasis on the expansion of civil rights protections and enforcement, all businesses need to understand their obligations and implement appropriate controls and training to promote compliance against the possible need to defend their own organizations actions. Often, violations are committed by employees or agents in the field, who are in adequately, trained or managed. Businesses also should ensure that contracts, advertisements, property notices, and other documents in communications incorporate non-discrimination and equality notifications, as required by law or otherwise advisable. tenants, customers, or others suspecting potential violations should be notified of procedures for reporting concerns, and businesses should conduct prompt, comprehensive investigations and document, their actions and responses to help mitigate potential liability. Most businesses also will want to ensure that they arrange for liability insurance coverage, providing for defense and insurance of potential claims and should work with legal counsel to investigate and respond to any complaints, reports, or other concerns to promote defensibility.
When investigating and responding to a violation, it is critically important to document the timing and details of the discovery of a potentially concern
We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.
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About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 35+ years of workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, scholarship and thought leadership. As a part of this experience, Miss Stamer has experience assisting clients with the investigation and defense of housing, health care and other civil rights and disabilities discrimination and retaliation complaints in employment, housing, health care, hospitality, lending and other businesses including defense of one of the initial disability discrimination, investigation and enforcement actions brought by the Justice Department and the HUD; section 1557 healthcare discrimination charges; as well as civil rights and other discrimination and retaliation enforcement actions in other industries.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with HHS-OCR, past chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 35 year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns. As an ongoing component of this work, she regularly advises, represents and defends businesses on Guideline Program and other compliance, risk management and other internal and external controls in a wide range of areas and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.
Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on workforce, compensation, and other operations, risk management, compliance and regulatory and public affairs concerns.
For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.
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