Sara Pratt Named FHEO Director of Investigations

Summit attendees followed closely the comments on state and local equivalency from Sara Pratt who was named Director of Investigations in HUD's Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office, in December.

Her appointment by Roberta Achtenberg adds an attorney with extensive fair housing experience in state and local enforcement, and private litigation in Kentucky.

Speaking at the workshop on Fair Housing Enforcement, Pratt said "There have been problems with some agencies." She said HUD is concerned and is providing technical assistance to improve agency performance. "HUD is strengthening its efforts to give agencies as much information as possible as early as possible regarding problem areas."

No Change in Standards

Pratt told the workshop, "It is not expected there will be any major changes in the criteria for equivalency." She said, "There is new emphasis on ensuring that disparate impact analysis is available under state and local laws." (Also see Reno, on page 2.) "'The primary focus is on coverage, enforcement mechanisms and remedies," Pratt said. The laws must be equivalent but need not be a "mirror image."

Improvement of the Process

The new Director of Investigations also reported that FHEO is actively working on four other areas of long interest to the agencies:

  • Revisions in the intake process.
  • Preparation of substantive guidance on conducting investigations promptly.
  • Procedures for individuals and fair housing groups to be designated by complainants to improve communication on cases.
  • Changes to reduce use of the administrative closure designation. (The agencies and HUD have been criticized for a high rate of such closures.)

As Director of the Office of Investigations, Ms. Pratt will supervise and coordinate national investigative activities. This will include major systemic investigations of mortgage lending and insurance redlining cases.

Pratt brings a outstanding record of 17 years work in fair housing and civil rights to her new post. She went to work with HUD in August 1991, as one of two deputies to the Assistant General Counsel for Fair Housing.

Edited Damages Books

She began work with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in 1976, and served as Attorney, Assistant Compliance Director and Investigator until 1982. She was editor and primary author of Damages for Embarrassment and Humiliation In Horsing Discrimination Cases, the right to compensation for psychic injury resulting from housing discrimination, published by the Kentucky Commission in 1982. The HUD-funded two volume set, is not only relied on in housing cases but also employment cases.

Pratt was a Legal Aid Attorney, and Kentucky Director of Nursing Home Licensing and Regulation. She returned to the Commission staff in 1985 as Assistant Director, and was Acting Director for five months in 1986 while Galen Martin was on sabbatical leave.

Judgment of $87,000 in Firebombing

While in private practice in Louisville Ms. Pratt helped Lillye Clay file a complaint with HUD that resulted in a landmark judgment for $87,000 against two white men who tried to firebomb her house. The complaint was filed with HUD in 1990 after the men plead guilty in Jefferson Circuit Court to the attempted firebombing. In December 1992, HUD Administrative Law Judge Samuel A. Chaitovitz found that Clay and her five children had suffered both economic and emotional losses because of racial harassment.

Pratt received her law degree from the University of Arizona College of Law in Tucson in 1975, and her B. A. from St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N. C.