Posts Tagged ‘housing discrimination’

Third Circuit: neighbors who criticized condo residents over emotional support dogs must face civil rights suit

In blog posts and comments, two residents of a Virgin Islands condominium complex criticized two other residents who were (in line with rights prescribed to them under federal law) keeping emotional-support dogs despite a no-dog rule in the complex. Among other statements, one or the other of the two said dog owners would be “happier in another community,” speculated that “diploma mill” paperwork could certify any canine whose owner cared to claim stress, suggested the complex should “lawyer up” and be prepared to go to court to defend its rule against “known violators,” and proposed the dog owners be “ostracized” by other residents.

The dog-owning residents sued the neighbors, along with the condo association and other defendants. They cited federal legal interpretations, which have since been buttressed by a regulation issued in the Obama administration, that hold it “hostile environment harassment” under the Fair Housing Act to make statements that “interfere” with another’s exercise of rights under the law.

Now the Third Circuit, as part of a decision resolving numerous issues about the case, reversed grants of summary judgment in favor of the two blog writers and ruled that they could properly be sued for damages for creating a hostile environment under the Fair Housing Act. It described as “harassment” various instances of their critical speech and noted that a single instance of harassing speech could give rise to liability under the law. It is not clear whether the parties raised, and the court did not make any gesture toward considering, whether some or all of the statements involved might be protected by the First Amendment, which is mentioned nowhere in the opinion. [Revock v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association et al., see relevant section VI, pp. 31-41 of opinion via John Ross, Short Circuit]

As Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has pointed out, the Ninth Circuit in 2000 slapped down federal officials for having investigated Berkeley, Calif. residents who had fought a housing project that they believed would bring mentally ill residents or recovering substance abusers (both protected as disabled under the Fair Housing Act) to their neighborhood. “It found this principle was so plain and obvious that it denied individual civil rights officials qualified immunity for” having investigated the citizens. That case [White v. Lee] would appear to stand for the proposition that the First Amendment provides robust protection for much speech that criticizes, opposes, and disparages others’ exercise of rights under the Fair Housing Act, and that the speech does not lose protection just because others regard it as retaliatory or discouraging to the exercise of rights.

More: Hans Bader, Scott Greenfield, and Eric Goldman, who got to the case before either of us.

January 25 roundup

Discrimination law roundup

  • Prof. Sam Estreicher proposes safe-harbor rule to overcome disincentives to hiring of costly or risky job seekers [SSRN via Workplace Prof]
  • “Muslim flight attendant for ExpressJet suspended, wouldn’t serve alcohol” [Detroit Free Press, earlier]
  • Profile of lawyer Joel Liberson, who’s talked many cities into suing banks for big bucks under Fair Housing Act [WSJ]
  • “Did the 7th Circuit finally kill McDonnell-Douglas?” [Jon Hyman on “burden-shifting” evidentiary framework in employment discrimination law]
  • U.S. Commission on Civil Rights believes law should defer to religious conscience claims “only to the extent that they do not unduly burden” bans on discrimination [Stephanie Slade, Reason; report with nonpartisan sections written by Lenore Ostrowsky] Anti-discrimination laws as applied to private actors restrict liberty and sometimes force conscience [David Harsanyi, The Federalist] “Massachusetts: Churches may be covered by transgender discrimination bans, as to ‘secular events'” [Volokh]
  • “Unfair ‘Fair Housing’: The new Obama administration policy to ‘deconcentrate’ poverty is a threat to communities” [Howard Husock, City Journal; Kurtz, NRO]

September 14 roundup

Baltimore County to consider bill forcing landlords to take Section 8

In suburban Baltimore County, county executive Kevin Kamenetz has introduced a bill to ban “housing voucher discrimination,” that is to say, a bill requiring landlords to take Section 8 tenants. “Kamenetz is required to introduce the bill as part of a housing discrimination settlement with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that was reached this year. … If [it] does not pass the County Council, the HUD settlement requires it to be reintroduced in future years.” Landlords and property owners say that it is unfair to force them to enroll against their will in a program with cumbersome paperwork and inspections. [Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun] HUD is now arm-twisting jurisdictions nationwide into enacting these bad laws; earlier here (bad renter trashes unit), here, etc.

Update: County legislature votes down bill [Baltimore Campaign for Liberty]

May 24 roundup

  • Not the theater’s fault, says a Colorado jury, rejecting Aurora massacre suit [ABA Journal, earlier here, here, and here, related here, etc.]
  • Senate GOP could have cut off funds for HUD’s social-engineer-the-suburbs power grab, AFFH. So why’d they arrange instead to spare it? [Paul Mirengoff/PowerLine, more, earlier] Related: federal judge Denise Cote denies motion to challenge supposed speech obligations of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino under consent decree with HUD [Center for Individual Rights; earlier here, here, etc.]
  • “Earnhardt Family Fighting Over Whether One Earnhardt Son Can Use His Own Last Name” [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt]
  • Freddie Gray charges, bad new laws on pay, the state’s stake in world trade, armored vehicles for cops, bar chart baselines that don’t start at zero, and more in my latest Maryland policy roundup [Free State Notes]
  • “You can be fined for not calling people ‘ze’ or ‘hir,’ if that’s the pronoun they demand that you use” [Eugene Volokh on NYC human rights commission guidance]
  • Despite potential for schadenfreude, please refrain from taxing university endowments [John McGinnis]

Profs: considering credit history could violate rights of mentally ill

Various federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act, prohibit discrimination against disabled persons, and mental illness is a disability. And so — say three professors — businesses may be violating these laws by dinging credit applicants for poor credit history unless they make allowance for persons whose poor financial choices were the result of mental illness. Bonus: citation to authority of “United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which the United States has signed)” [Christopher Guzelian, Michael Ashley Stein, and H. S. Akiskal, SSRN via @tedfrank]

“Denying Housing Over Criminal Record May Be Discrimination, Feds Say”

HUD to private landlords: from now on, prepare to defend a discrimination suit if you decline to rent to felons. After all, any such rule might have disparate impact on members of protected groups. [NPR] Julia Vitullo-Martin writes: “Amazing, given that government — in the form of public housing — has refused to rent to felons since Clinton administration reforms.”

Discrimination law roundup

  • “Requiring Employees to Return 100% Healed Costs Trucking Firm $300K in EEOC Suit” [Thompson’s HR Compliance Expert]
  • Update: Oregon appeals court upholds $400,000 fine judgment against Portland owner who asked transgender club to stop holding meetings at his nightclub [Oregonian, earlier]
  • Fire Department of New York commissioner: yes, we lowered fitness bar so more women could join the force [Matthew Hennessey/City Journal, my take in The Excuse Factory back when]
  • From May: “Oversight of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Examining EEOC’s Enforcement and Litigation Programs” [Senate HELP committee via Workplace Prof]
  • Lengthy HUD battle: 2nd Circuit notes “no finding, at any point, that Westchester actually engaged in housing discrimination” [WSJ editorial, earlier here and here]
  • In 1992 Delaware settled an employment discrimination lawsuit by agreeing to assign prison guards “without regard to the gender of prisoners….A disaster ensued.” [Scott Greenfield on Cris Barrish, Wilmington News-Journal coverage]
  • NYC council speaker pushing “very bad bill to extend special employment protections to caregivers” [N.Y. Daily News editorial]