Landlord to Pay $95K in Gender Identity Discrimination Case

The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission recently announced a final decision and order in a housing discrimination case. Last November, the commission found that a landlord discriminated against a resident based on her gender identity and expression and awarded the resident a total of $95,000 in damages, including $75,000 in emotional distress damages and $20,000 in punitive damages. The landlord didn’t appeal the decision.

Under state law, it’s a discriminatory practice for an owner or any other person engaging in a real estate transaction to discriminate against a person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of that real estate transaction because of sex, including gender identity and expression.

According to the resident’s complaint, she lived and worked as the property caretaker while the landlord resided in Florida. The resident said that the landlord visited the Hawaii property to hold Qigong retreats for his mainland-based business and first met her in 2012 when she was using a name traditionally associated with the male gender and presented as male. After the landlord saw her expressing her gender identity for the first time in person, however, the resident claimed that the landlord harassed, threatened, and forced her off the property.

At the hearing, the resident testified that she suffered emotional distress as a result of the landlord’s actions. An expert on bias crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals testified about the pervasive stigmatization of transgender individuals and research indicating that transgender women are at greater risk of being subjected to violence. In light of this heightened risk of harm, the expert said that transgender individuals have reason to take threats of violence seriously.

“The decision from the Commission reaffirms its commitment to the elimination of discrimination in housing,” Executive Director William D. Hoshijo said in a statement. “The award of punitive damages in the Commission’s Final Decision and Order should signal to housing providers that harassment, intimidation, and discrimination against individuals for expressing their gender identity will not be tolerated.”

The April 2019 lesson of Fair Housing Coach offers nine rules to help your community comply with applicable state and local requirements—along with a checklist of additional characteristics protected under the law of each state. The April lesson, “Complying with State and Local Fair Housing Laws,” is available to subscribers