The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down several major civil rights decisions this month before its current term ends. They ruled this week that Abercrombie & Fitch discriminated against a job applicant because the company didn’t offer a religious accommodation to a Muslim teenager wearing a head scarf, even though she didn’t request an accommodation. The teenager’s head scarf was a violation of the company’s “look policy.”
In a case that the multifamily industry is watching carefully, the High Court may also decide the fate of disparate impact liability under the Fair Housing Act. The case originated when the Inclusive Communities Project, a Dallas-based group that advocates for integrated housing, sued the Texas Department of Housing. The suit alleges discrimination against Texas for disproportionately approving tax credits in minority neighborhoods, while disproportionately rejecting them in majority white neighborhoods, therefore violating the Fair Housing Act and reinforcing patterns of segregation.
The Texas case highlights effects-based discrimination enforcement. While “disparate treatment” or intentional discrimination is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, neutrally-applied business practices that result in a “disparate impact” on a protected class is not clearly covered under the Act.
Specifically, disparate impact liability could trigger discrimination claims for conducting resident criminal history and credit screenings - among other business practices - despite no intention of singling out a particular group protected by the Fair Housing Act.
NMHC/NAA and six other real estate trade associations weighed-in on the issue by jointly submitting an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in November.
The multifamily industry supports the Fair Housing Act and is committed to providing quality rental housing without regard to race, religion, color, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin. In addition, we support enforcement against bad actors who intentionally discriminate and damage the industry’s reputation.