January 2012 Coach's Quiz
We have given you four rules on how to protect your community from race discrimination claims. Now let's look at how the rules might apply in the real world. Take the COACH's Quiz to see what you have learned.
INSTRUCTIONS: Each of the following questions has only one correct answer. On a separate piece of paper, write down the number of each question, followed by the answer you think is correct—for example, 1)b, 2)a, and so on.
And this month, there's an extra credit assignment: Judge for Yourself, a description of an actual court case. Test yourself on whether you think the community should be held liable, and then check the summary of the court's ruling to see how much you have learned.
COACH'S TIP: The correct answers (with explanations) follow the quiz. Good luck!
An African-American couple visits the leasing office asking about available one-bedroom units. Although there are three units available, the leasing agent shows the couple only two of them. She doesn't mention the third because she has heard about racially insensitive comments made by the resident of the unit abutting the third unit. Since she's trying to protect the couple from racial discrimination, her actions do not violate fair housing law. True or false?
It's possible to discriminate based on race from online communications—even if you don't know what the prospect or resident looks like. True or false?
EXTRA CREDIT: JUDGE FOR YOURSELF
This case involves an African-American resident who had various mental impairments. Before moving into a unit, he lived with his mother and younger brother in her apartment a short walk away. Each day, the resident's younger brother would visit the unit, where they would make and listen to music, often with friends.
A few months into the tenancy, the property manager began to get complaints about the resident and his visitors. In particular, neighbors complained that they walked too close to other units, and that they disturbed them with derogatory comments, noisy conduct, and loud music. When informed of the complaints, the owner, who allegedly didn't know about the resident's race or disability, instructed the manager to send a 30-day termination notice.
Less than a month later, an incident occurred when a housekeeper saw four teenagers leave the unit and get into a fight—one was pushed into a fence, knocking it down. Police were called to the scene, but the teenagers were not forthcoming with information, other than indicating that they were “play fighting.”
Meanwhile, community personnel expressed concern to police about the well-being of the resident and the possibility of further property damage inside his unit. What happened next was in dispute, but one or more officers entered the unit, where the resident was found hiding in the bathtub. Upon determining that no one was hurt or the victim of a crime, the officers gave the nonresident teenagers a trespass warning and left.
Upon learning of the events, the owner said he instructed the property manager to terminate the lease of the resident and anyone else who was involved with “run-ins with the police.”
After vacating the unit, the resident sued for race discrimination. The community asked the court for a judgment in its favor without a trial.
What did the court decide?
Coach's Answers and Explanations
Correct answer: b
Reason: Rules #1 and #2 apply here:
Rule #1: Keep Race Out of the Leasing Process
Rule #2: Focus on Employee Training
Even if well-meaning, the leasing agent's actions could be considered unlawful steering—that is, limiting the couple's housing choices by directing them away from a particular unit because of their race.
Correct answer: a
Reason: Rule #3 applies here:
Rule #3: Prevent Personal Biases from Derailing Fair Housing Efforts
In some cases, a prospect's name or address in an email may lead to assumptions about his race, sex, or other protected characteristics. If your community ignores inquiries from prospects perceived to be African American, but responds quickly to those from prospects perceived to be white, your community could be accused of race discrimination.
ANSWER: JUDGE FOR YOURSELF
In this case involving an Ohio community, the federal court dismissed the resident's claims of discrimination based on race and disability.
The resident argued that the termination of his lease was racially motivated, but the owner denied that he knew the resident's race when he made the decision.
The court said it didn't matter. Even if the owner knew about the resident's race and disability, the community had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating the lease. The evidence showed that the juveniles who gathered at the unit caused noise disturbances, intimidated or harassed residents with derogatory comments, and damaged the community's property.
The court rejected the resident's argument that the community's stated reason was merely an excuse to cover up unlawful discrimination. Simply stated, the resident failed to show that the reasons given for the termination of the lease were based on facts that did not actually occur. To prove discriminatory intent, the resident accused some neighbors of making statements reflecting a racial bias—by referring to those visiting the unit as a “gang” or saying that the resident and his brother were turning the neighborhood into a “ghetto.” Although racial stereotyping remains prevalent in today's society, the court characterized the statements as ambiguous and said that they didn't suggest that the owner decided to terminate the resident's lease because of his race. Furthermore, it was undisputed that the owner—who made the final decision to terminate the lease—was unaware of the remarks and there was no evidence of the owner making any comments based on racial stereotypes [Nelms v. Wellington Way Apts., LLC, March 2011].