The Sweet Smell of Justice
Posted by Kristina Petronko, NPLS Staff Attorney and Marybeth Saporita, NPLS Paralegal on June 12, 2014
While many people understand the overall premise of the Fair Housing Act, some people are surprised by what specific actions are considered discriminatory. You may know that national origin is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, but you may not be aware of the various ways in which discrimination occurs. For example, not many people realize that treating a tenant differently because of the smell of the food they cook is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. However, that’s exactly what happened in a case settled this year in Texas.
Earlier this year, an apartment complex in Euless, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, was found to have violated the Fair Housing Act because the complex manager segregated individuals of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent into certain buildings in the complex because the manager didn’t like the smell of the tenants’ food.
A former employee of the complex reported the manager for unfair treatment of individuals of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, including the manager misrepresenting the availability of apartments based on the tenants’ accent and perceived race or national origin, the manager using derogatory names to describe individuals of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, and the manager telling other employees to house individuals of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent in two specific buildings to isolate the smells of their cooking. All of these actions were found to be violations of the Fair Housing Act.
The Department of Justice settled the case with the apartment complex. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the complex agreed to pay a total of $317,000.00 in damages and penalties, to adopt a nondiscrimination policy and to implement corrective policies, including training of staff. Additionally, the manager who ordered the discriminatory policies is no longer allowed to be employed by the complex.
The moral of the story is housing professionals can’t treat applicants and tenants differently based on their national origin or the foods they commonly cook. In other words, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!
You can read more about the settlement on the Department of Justice’s website: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2014/January/14-crt-018.html