Father and Montana Fair Housing win $25,000 in settlement of religious and family status case

In the largest settlement ever in an fair housing advertising case in Montana, a Park County man and Montana Fair Housing received $25,000. The March settlement resolved a 1995 federal lawsuit filed by Robert B., the unidentified father of a minor child. The suit was filed against Thomas Burns and Doug Kenyon, the owners and publishers of the Montana Pioneer, a monthly tabloid newspaper. Also named in the suit were Malcolm and Coreen Hooker, the owners of a Livingston, Montana apartment complex. The suit alleged religious and family status discrimination in the rental of housing, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Newspaper ran ads which stated preferences for "singles" and members of a certain church

In his lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that the Pioneer had regularly published housing ads which discriminated against families with children and persons who did not belong to the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT). The plaintiffs asserted that the Hookers had run ads which discriminated against non-CUT members and families with minor children. They also refused to provide housing to families or non-CUT members even when units were available. Montana Fair Housing, a non-profit fair housing group in Missoula, joined the lawsuit several months after it was filed.

US District Court Judge Jack Shanstrom approved the Consent Order which called for the defendants to pay $25,000 to Robert B. and Montana Fair Housing. The Consent Order also enjoined the defendants from discriminating in the future and included a list of words and phrases that the Pioneer was told not to use in classified ads in the future. They included "prefer male KOF," "adults only,""single working persons preferred," "KOF family or singles only," and others.

Publishers agree to print apology for running discriminatory advertisements

According to Montana Fair Housing, KOF is an abbreviation for "Keeper Of the Flame," a term used for members of the Church Universal and Triumphant. The Consent Order also required the Pioneer to publish an apology to its readers for the harm it caused by running discriminatory advertisements.

In its newsletter, Montana Fair Housing condemned the actions of the Pioneer's publishers and the Hookers. "These ads exhibited a total disregard for the equal housing rights of families with children, people with disabilities, and people who didn't subscribe to the same religion as the publishers or the apartment owners," the group stated.