Lawyers’ Committee and Washington Lawyers’ Committee Applaud Supreme Court’s Decision Upholding the Fair Housing Act’s Disparate Impact Standard

WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 26, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — The national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs applaud today’s decision by the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project (TDHCA) holding that disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Today’s decision reaffirms over 40 years of unanimous case law and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s authoritative 2013 regulation concerning disparate impact claims.  By affirming the applicability of the disparate impact standard under the FHA, the decision maintains the ability of our organizations to address continuing patterns of racial segregation identified long ago by the Kerner Commission’s report when it concluded that “[o]ur nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”  These systemic practices of discrimination limit access to integrated neighborhoods, create barriers for educational opportunities and access to jobs, and continue the cycle of poverty for minority families in the United States.

“The Supreme Court has rightly recognized disparate impact claims and the important role they play in promoting fairness and inclusion in American society,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel of the national Lawyers’ Committee. “Focusing on the effects of a policy or practice, rather than the intent behind it, is the most effective way of dismantling structural barriers to equal opportunity and is necessary because discrimination is often subtle and covert.”

The Lawyers’ Committee and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee are committed to vigorous enforcement of the FHA in order to expand access to opportunity and help realize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of open, inclusive communities.  By affirming the applicability of the disparate impact standard under the FHA, this decision opens the courthouse doors wider to members of historically marginalized communities challenging structural inequality in housing.

Disparate impact claims have been a crucial vehicle in our ability to challenge a host of discriminatory practices. These include challenges to exclusionary zoning law practices that have limited housing opportunities for minority residents and perpetuated residential segregation in cases brought by the Lawyers’ Committee, as well as a series of ground-breaking cases brought by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee that challenged discriminatory reverse redlining and redlining practices against African Americans as well as occupancy limits that had a disproportionate impact on families with children.

Under the disparate impact standard, victims of discrimination may challenge facially neutral policies or practices that have the effect of reducing access to housing for individuals or families on the basis of race and other groups protected by the FHA. A defendant can still prevail if the defendant in such a case can prove that he or she has a substantial, legitimate and non-discriminatory interest in and justification for the challenged policy or practice and plaintiff cannot show that an alternative policy or practice would serve that interest with less discriminatory effect.

In TDHCA, a Dallas-based civil rights group challenged policies that resulted in the development of family-occupancy Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties in heavily African American and Latino neighborhoods but not in predominantly white areas thus perpetuating residential racial and ethnic segregation. The plaintiff prevailed in the district court, but the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded because the district court had placed the burden of showing that there was no alternative policy that could serve the defendant’s interests on the defendant rather than on the plaintiff. Now that the Supreme Court has issued this decision, the district court will consider the facts of the case, with that burden placed on the plaintiff.

“With this question decisively resolved, the Lawyers’ Committee will continue to aggressively enforce the Fair Housing Act and to attack housing discrimination and increase access to opportunity for members of historically marginalized communities,” said Joseph D. Rich, co-director of the national Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing & Community Development Project. “Thoughtless, unjustified policies that discriminate against groups protected by the FHA or perpetuate residential segregation and contribute to structural inequality are still all too common, and the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard is one of the strongest tools for dismantling those barriers.”

About the Lawyers’ Committee 
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), 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. We celebrated our 50thanniversary in 2013 and continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and community development; employment; voting; education; criminal justice and environmental justice.  For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visitwww.lawyerscommittee.org.

About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address discrimination and entrenched poverty issues in the Washington, DC community. By mobilizing the resources of the private bar, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee has addressed these critical issues in a number of areas, including: (1) fair housing; (2) equal employment opportunity; (3) immigrant and refugee rights; (4) disability rights; (5) public accommodations; and (6) public education.  For more information about the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, visit http://www.washlaw.org/.

Media Contact/Inquiries:

Stacie Royster, Director, Communications and External Affairs
202-662-8317 or sroyster (at) lawyerscommittee (dot) org

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