A Case Regarding Racial Discrimination Against a Tester
On December 29, 2021, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. Lone Wolf Housing Authority (W.D. Okla.). The complaint, filed on December 15, 2020, alleged that the defendants discriminated on the basis of race in violation of the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when they rejected a housing application from the complainant and her minor child on the pretext of lack of available housing and when they further misrepresented the availability of housing to a Black tester after showing numerous available units to the white companion tester. Additional defendants include former Housing Authority employees David M. Haynes and Myrna Hess. The consent decree requires the defendants to pay $75,000 in monetary damages to the complainant, her child, and the fair housing organization that conducted the testing. The Housing Authority must also implement non-discriminatory procedures, train all employees and board members on fair housing, maintain records of applications and availability, and report to the United States on their compliance with the terms of the Consent Decree. The case was referred to the Division after the Department of Housing and Urban Development received a complaint, conducted an investigation, and issued a charge of discrimination.
press release (12/29/21)
press release (12/15/20)
Case Open Date: Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Case Name: United States v. Lone Wolf Housing Authority (W.D. Okla.)
Topic: Civil Rights
Tags: Fair Housing Act FHA Title VI race African American testing
Industry Code: None
Component: Civil Rights Division
Civil Rights – Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
USAO – Oklahoma, Western
Case Documents: Complaint – United States v. Lone Wolf Housing Authority (W.D. Okla.)
Consent Decree – United States v. Lone Wolf Housing Authority (W. D. Okla.)
The testing efforts conducted at the Defendant’s rental property directly resulted from Legal Aid’s suspicions that discriminatory actions were taking place. However, testing is not always targeted like this; many tests are conducted at random, which is why housing providers should be ready at all times to interact with a potential tester.
It is important to remember that fair housing complaints can be filed with HUD or a comparable agency up to 12 months following a test where a violation is believed to have occurred. Within a year, it is unlikely that an employee will remember the details of a brief interaction with any visitor that would be necessary for defending such a challenge. Keeping good records of your prospects, their requests, tours taken, and any unusual questions or statements is a best practice, particularly if you want to have a fair chance of later rebutting allegations made by a tester.
Perhaps the more important factor here is the interactions themselves. In this case, the DOJ alleges vastly different experiences for the white tester versus the black tester, including information regarding availability, taking a tour, time spent, friendly comments, wait time, etc. While it is always possible that there may be an explanation for the varying experiences of prospects, significant disparities like those reported by these testers are difficult if not impossible to overcome. Because most housing providers are not given any warning before being tested, it is crucial that staff are trained to provide the same level of time and attention and to provide accurate information regarding rates and availability. Testers will note even small disparities, so remain vigilant in keeping your process consistent for all prospects, regardless of an employee’s mood, time constraints, etc. Being careful to avoid even the appearance of differential treatment will go a long way toward avoiding a fair housing complaint. In the event that a complaint is filed, seeking the advice of an attorney that specializes in fair housing is your next best step.