Arguing that individuals and businesses involved in the renting or selling of homes and other real-estate transactions must be held accountable for the discriminatory effects of their policies and practices, Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum has joined a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to agree with the federal appellate courts that have recognized disparate impact claims under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Attorney General Rosenblum joined her colleagues from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. The effort was led by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Disparate impact claims arise when a policy that appears to be race-neutral disproportionately affects protected groups. The joint brief highlights the experience of some states in pursuing disparate impact claims against banks and mortgage companies such as Option One, Countrywide, and Wells Fargo. These lenders’ seemingly-neutral policies actually caused African- American and Hispanic borrowers to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars more than comparable white borrowers for high-risk subprime mortgages.
The brief was submitted in the case of Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., which is scheduled for argument on December 4, 2013.
Fair access to housing is a crucial component of equality,” Attorney General Rosenblum stated. “Disparate impact claims are consistent with the language of the Fair Housing Act, and necessary to combat the effects of bias in housing markets – including subconscious and concealed bias. That is why every federal appellate court to consider the issue has upheld these types of claims.”
Oregon Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian praised the effort to ensure that disparate impacts are recognized under the Fair Housing Act. “The Bureau of Labor and Industries works to protect Oregonians from housing discrimination and unfair treatment on the job or in public places,” said Commissioner Avakian. “It’s important that housing enforcement investigators have strong tools – including the ability to pursue disparate impact claims – so that Oregonians are not subjected to unlawful discrimination when seeking a place to live.”
The FHA was enacted in 1968, and amended in 1988. It protects individuals from discrimination in the sale and rental of housing as well as other housing-related transactions on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, disability, religion, and familial status.
Kristina Edmundson, Department of Justice, Kristina.Edmunson@doj.state.or.us, 503-378-6002