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Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Files Circuit Court Amicus Brief Against Discriminatory Landlord Practices

For Immediate Release November 8, 2017

The Refusal to Accept Tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers Violates the Fair Housing Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law this week moved to file an amicus curiae, “friend of the court,” brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in an important case involving the refusal of a large property management company and several apartment complexes to rent to African-American families with Housing Choice Vouchers.

In its brief in the case of Inclusive Communities Project v. Lincoln Property Co., the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argues the district court erred in dismissing the Inclusive Communities Project complaint that challenges a policy of the property management company and multiple apartment complexes by which they refuse to rent to persons with Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers in high opportunity communities of the Dallas metropolitan area.  The complaint alleges that the defendants’ policy violates the Fair Housing Act because it intentionally discriminates against African Americans and it has an unjustified disparate impact on racial minorities, which perpetuates residential segregation in the Dallas area.

The brief places the claims of the Inclusive Communities Project, a Texas-based fair housing nonprofit, in the context of well-established precedents under the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws for proving an intentional discrimination claim through circumstantial evidence and a disparate impact claim by demonstrating that a neutral policy or practice is the cause of a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on minority apartment seekers.

“Source of income discrimination prevents the Housing Choice Voucher Program from fulfilling its potential as a vehicle for promoting integration and increasing access to opportunity, particularly for African-American apartment seekers,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision affirming the viability of disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act, it is critical that courts correctly apply well-established law and not close their doors to victims of discrimination.”

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss in this case in August 2017, holding that the Inclusive Communities Project’s allegations of intentional discrimination and unjustified disparate impact were not plausible.  In doing so, the court ignored longstanding precedents such as the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green and the “heartland” disparate impact cases cited with approval by the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project.  The district court also failed to grapple with the detailed factual allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint. Reversal by the Fifth Circuit would be an important step in ensuring that the Fair Housing Act remains a powerful tool for rooting out structural inequality in our society.

“The Housing Choice Voucher program is the federal government’s primary program for helping low-income families afford housing in the private market,” said Joe Rich, Co-Director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing and Community Development Project.  “The Inclusive Communities Project lawsuit is important because it seeks to provide equal housing opportunities for these families in high opportunity neighborhoods in the Dallas area and promotes the goal of the Fair Housing Act to integrate residential communities.”

To read the full amicus brief, click here.

 

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination.  Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.

 

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