Seventh Circuit reverses HUD ALJ in Complainant-Intervener's Appeal

Contact: Leslie Matlaw at (312) 804-3527 or send_2_leslie@hotmail.com.

For the first time since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, a Complainant has successfully challenged HUD’s administrative dismissal of her claims after a hearing on the merits. In Sheila White v. HUD, Number 05-1252, the Seventh Circuit reversed HUD ALJ Robert A. Andretta’s finding that Ms. White was not discriminated against in her housing search. In August of 1998, Ms. White responded to a Chicago-area landlord’s newspaper advertisement for an apartment in Harvey, Illinois. After asking about her family composition, Respondent Gertie Wooten refused to show Ms. White the unit, because she was “unmarried and [had] children.” 

Ms. Wooten owned and managed only three units and was thus otherwise-exempt under Section 803(b). In 2001, HUD charged the case under Section 804(c), which makes it unlawful to “make, print, publish” or otherwise convey a “preference or limitation against any person due to their protected-class status.” Neither party elected the case to federal Court, and an initial Administrative Hearing was held on September 25, 2001, which Ms. Wooten failed to attend, her Counsel then asserting that Respondent was incompetent. The Hearing was postponed pending state court proceedings and HUD’s hearing was re-convened on February 4, 2004.

Notwithstanding that Ms. Wooten and her representatives defaulted, ALJ Andretta ruled that Seventh Circuit precedent required an evidentiary hearing on liability. After a full hearing on liability and damages, the judge ruled that the Government and Complainant-Intervener failed to prove either than Ms. Wooten was the maker of the statement or that it was facially-discriminatory. HUD’s Office of General Counsel declined to appeal the ALJ’s decision to Secretary Alfonso Jackson, but on appeal by Ms. White, the Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that statements discriminating against single parents constitute familial status discrimination, not marital status discrimination and thereby violate the FHA.

Complainant–Intervener’s counsel is working closely with HUD to bring this case to its long-overdue conclusion and get Ms. White her much-needed relief. For further details, contact Sheila White’s Counsel, Leslie Matlaw at (312) 804-3527 or send_2_leslie@hotmail.com.

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