Justice Department Files Race Discrimination Lawsuit Against Housing Authority in Oklahoma
(STL.News) The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Housing Authority of the Town of Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, along with its former employees, David Haynes and Myrna Hess, violated the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when they denied housing to an African-American applicant and her young child because of their race.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, stems from the experience of an African-American mother and her then-five-year-old daughter who, in 2015, were living in a shelter and, with the help of the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma Inc., were seeking affordable housing.
“Denying people housing opportunities because of their race or color is an egregious violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “Discrimination by those who receive federal taxpayer dollars to provide housing to lower-income applicants is particularly odious. The Justice Department will not tolerate illegal housing discrimination in any form and we will continue to fight to protect the rights of all Americans to rent and own their homes without regard to their race or color.”
“Families have a tough enough time finding decent affordable housing without having their options limited because of their race,” said Anna María Farías, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD applauds today’s action and will continue working with the Justice Department to take appropriate action when the nation’s fair housing laws are violated.”
The complaint alleges that when a Legal Aid employee first contacted the Housing Authority on behalf of the woman, the Housing Authority told the employee that units were available and invited the woman to apply. But when the Housing Authority learned from her application that she and her child are black, the Housing Authority denied the application and falsely told the applicant that no apartments were available. Legal Aid then conducted testing confirming that the Housing Authority was discriminating against African-American applicants.
As the complaint alleges, defendants told the white tester that there were multiple apartments available to her and her daughter and showed her three vacant apartments. By contrast, the next day, defendants told the African-American tester that no apartments were available for her and her granddaughter and did not show her an apartment. The Housing Authority receives funds from HUD and manages 25 apartments.
The applicant and Legal Aid subsequently filed a complaint with HUD. After an investigation, HUD determined that the defendants had violated the Fair Housing Act and Title VI and referred the matter to the Department of Justice for litigation.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the complainants and a court order barring future discrimination.