HUD FHEO Says Conciliation Agreements are Public

HUD's Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Office of Investigations, has extended its series of Guidance Notices with a new memo opposing confidential conciliation agreements. The notice said, "...conciliation must be fashioned with the understanding by all parties that it will be disclosed fully," with limited exceptions. The notice says the following statement should be included in each agreement, "This conciliation agreement is a public document subject to publication or disclosure."

In explaining the notice, Investigations Director, Sara Pratt, said this was an important public policy issue because the public needs to know that settlements are being entered into. Ms. Pratt said, " I hope this will give you and your fair housing investigators the leverage you need to decline to enter into settlements which are labeled confidential."

Speaking at the June conference of the National Fair Housing Alliance, Ms. Pratt said the general rule is that no conciliation agreement will be confidential. An exception would be for personal privacy including modesty, egrigous sexual harassment cases or the disclosure of certain types of disabilities.

The Guidance Notice cited both the statute and the implementing regulation in requiring the disclosure of conciliation agreements.

Ms. Pratt told NFHA delegates about another future memo reminding attorneys to pursue civil recoveries that might flow from a criminal recovery in a fair housing case. She cited a recent St. Louis ethnic intimidation case and an earlier case she had in Kentucky.

The new Guidance Notice was issued in April, and like the five earlier memos, was signed by Assistant Secretary Roberta Achtenberg. The Notices are internal to HUD officials, but provide needed leadership for local and state enforcement agencies, attorneys, fair housing groups, etc.

Director Pratt has announced completion of six chapters of an enforcement manual and 426 pages of the handbook have just been issued. The new manual provides baseline information and procedures for consistent processing of cases on a national basis - something Ms. Pratt has long championed. She said the manual describes procedures for intake of cases, temporary restraining orders, conciliation, jurisdiction, planning and conducting an investigation, among other topics. Ms. Pratt said Professor Robert Schwemm, of the University of Kentucky Law School, is working with her office to prepare two chapters on compliance enforcement. They cover proof of discrimination and legal standards for certain types of difficult and unusual cases.

She said the case analysis process, outlined in the manual, had been implemented around the country since October 94.

"Use of this document has resulted in much more consistent outcomes and determinations that make sense," she said. Ms. Pratt said the manual provides information on attorney involvement in the processing of a complaint.

Ms. Pratt said her office was aware of the poor performance record of some of the state and local enforcement agencies. The deferral process is working better than it did in the past, but there have been suspensions of payment for several agencies. There are local and state agencies that do a better job of investigating and resolving cases than HUD, she added.