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Latest Civil Rights News

Taken from the Department of Justice website, http://www.justice.gov/crt/pressroom/

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Justice Department Settles Race and National Origin Lawsuit Against Lee County, Florida

The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with Lee County, Fla. that, if approved by the district court, will resolve allegations that the county discriminated against three Hispanic employees on the basis of race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. 

The department’s complaint, previously filed in the Middle District of Florida, alleged that Lee County discriminated against Facilities Management Tradesworkers Leonides Sepulveda, Marco Ferreira, and Eduardo Rivera by subjecting them to racial and ethnic harassment.  According to the complaint, from early 2007 through January 2009, the three employees were regularly subjected to racial and ethnic slurs by several of their co-workers.   The discriminatory actions by co-workers included mocking Ferreira’s and Rivera’s accents, and making false accusations against Ferreira and Rivera to Lee County’s Office of Equal Opportunity in an effort to have the county terminate the two employees.   The complaint further alleged that despite timely complaints about the harassment by the employees to their supervisors, as well as the supervisors’ direct observation of the harassment, Lee County failed to take any meaningful action to stop the harassment until January 2009, when the harassers were terminated.  After the United States filed suit against Lee County, the three employees who were allegedly subjected to race and national original discrimination intervened in the lawsuit.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, which must still be approved by the federal district court, the county is required to review and, if appropriate, revise its anti-discrimination policies for its workforce to protect its employees from discrimination.   The county must also provide mandatory equal employment opportunity training to all Facilities Management employees that includes an emphasis on preventing race and national origin discrimination in the workplace.  The settlement agreement also requires the county to pay the three affected employees $292,500 in monetary relief, including compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.

“Title VII ensures that employees have the right to work in an environment free of harassment based on their race and national origin,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “This settlement demonstrates the Civil Rights Division’s commitment to eradicate discriminatory harassment from the workplace.” 

The continued enforcement of Title VII has been and remains a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/ .

“We applaud the McDuffie County Schools for agreeing to take prompt voluntary corrective actions to ensure that it fully meets its desegregation obligations in three years,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “The Civil Rights Division will continue to work to ensure that McDuffie and all school districts under federal desegregation orders fully eliminate the vestiges of segregation in their schools.”

Edward J. Tarver, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, said, “I admire the McDuffie County School District’s efforts in working to amicably resolve what were once highly contentious issues in our society.   The United States Attorney’s Office will provide assistance to the School District and the Civil Rights Division to ensure continued compliance with this Consent Order.”

The enforcement of the Equal Protection Clause and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in school districts is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt .

Justice Department Settles with Georgia School District to Re-Zone Schools and Ensure Desegregation

The Department of Justice announced on March 19 that it had entered into a settlement agreement with the McDuffie County Schools in Georgia to modify the zoning of the district’s elementary schools and ensure the school district complies with other obligations to desegregate its schools in the areas of student assignment, faculty recruiting and assignment and transportation.   

The consent order, if approved by the court, requires the district to alter the elementary school zones in order to increase the number of African-American students in the de jure white school, where the enrollment has remained majority white and disproportionate to the racial composition of the district as a whole.   The consent order also requires the district to eliminate racial disparities in how teachers and staff are assigned to the district’s schools and to engage in affirmative efforts to recruit African-American personnel.   The consent order also contains provisions for student transfers, gifted and talented programs, discipline, transportation, and monitoring and reporting.   Finally, the district will establish a diversity advisory council to evaluate and monitor the implementation of the zone changes and the district’s continued efforts toward desegregation.   The consent order allows the district, upon demonstration of successful implementation of the provisions in the order, to move for unitary status on Dec. 15, 2015.

Justice Department Signs Agreement with the City of Memphis, Tenn., to Ensure Physical Accessibility for People with Disabilities at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

The Justice Department announced on Jan. 28 that it had reached an agreement with the city of Memphis, Tenn., under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to improve physical accessibility for people with disabilities at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, home of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis Tigers and Southern Heritage Classic football games.

 

“Today’s agreement marks a new chapter for historic Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, which will permit all spectators, with and without disabilities, to attend college football games – both   regular season and bowl games -- at the stadium,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

 

Under the settlement agreement, Memphis will install a total of 282 wheelchair spaces and an equal number of companion seats around the stadium at Row 25, and in the upper concourses on the home and away sides of the Liberty Bowl.   The agreement requires installation of additional wheelchair spaces in seating areas renovated in the future, such as the suites and press boxes.   The 282 wheelchair spaces will be dispersed vertically and horizontally throughout the Liberty Bowl, and will provide people in wheelchairs with lines of sight over standing spectators that are comparable to those offered to individuals without disabilities.

 

In addition, Memphis will ensure ADA compliance for concession stands, gates, elevators, suites and press boxes, ramps, and restrooms throughout the Liberty Bowl.   Memphis will retain an architect to certify that the city has corrected each ADA violation.   Memphis must report its progress to the United States.

 

Today’s agreement was reached under Title II of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local governments.   The Department will actively monitor the city’s compliance with the agreement, which will remain in effect for three years.

 

More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at the website www.justice.gov/crt .  More information about the ADA and today’s agreement with the City of Memphis can be accessed at the ADA website at www.ada.gov or by calling the toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

Three Men Charged with Hate Crime for Attack on African American Woman and White Man in California

Billy James Hammett, 28, and Perry Sylvester Jackson, 27, were arrested on Jan. 22 in Yuba County, Calif., on federal hate crime charges for their racially motivated attack on an African American woman and white man in Marysville, Calif., on April 18, 2011. A third defendant, Anthony Merrell Tyler, 32, has turned himself in to authorities in Sacramento, Calif.

 

The defendants were charged in a three-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of California and unsealed today.   They are charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.   The Shepard-Byrd Act criminalizes certain acts of physical violence causing bodily injury motivated by any person’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.

 

The indictment alleges that when an African American woman accompanied by a white male drove into the parking lot of a convenience store, Jackson shouted a racial epithet at the male. Hammett then approached the driver’s side of the car, using a racial epithet to refer to the African American driver, while Jackson and Tyler attacked from the other side of the car. The indictment further alleges that Hammett and Jackson punched and kicked the African American woman driver and white male passenger and that Tyler smashed the car windshield with a crowbar and used racial epithets again.

 

If convicted, the defendants could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the conspiracy charge, and 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each of the two hate-crime charges.

 

This case is being investigated by the FBI.   The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Steven Lapham for the Eastern District of California and Trial Attorney Chiraag Bains from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

 

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.   

 

Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against Wisconsin Landlord and Former Manager for Discriminating on the Basis of Race        

               The Justice Department announced on Nov. 28 that the manager and owner of the Geneva Terrace Apartments Inc. in La Crosse, Wis., have agreed to pay $57,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging they violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against African-Americans who were seeking to rent apartments at the complex.

 The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on Oct. 26, 2011, alleged that Nicolai Quinn, the manager of the apartment complex, told prospective African-American renters that apartments were not available when they were, while telling prospective white renters that there were apartments available.

 

“Nobody should be denied housing in this country because of their race.” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights.   “The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, and we will continue to vigorously enforce the law to ensure access to housing regardless of the race of an applicant.”  

 

“The Department of Justice and this U.S. Attorney’s Office will do everything possible to ensure that everyone has the freedom to choose where they live, regardless of race,” said John W. Vaudreuil, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin.

 

“It’s against the law to misrepresent a home’s availability because of race,” said John Trasviña, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD and the Justice Department will continue to take action against anyone who violates the nation’s fair housing laws.”   

 

As alleged in the complaint, in 2009 and 2010, Quinn told an African-American couple who were interested in renting an apartment in Geneva Terrace that there were no apartments available, even though the complex had posted a sign advertising vacancies.    The couple found it suspicious and asked a white friend to contact the complex.   Quinn told the white friend that he had available apartments.   The couple then reported their experience to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC), a nonprofit fair housing organization.   MMFHC conducted fair housing tests, which confirmed that Quinn was telling African Americans that apartments were not available while showing available apartments to white persons.  

 

The couple also filed a complaint with HUD, which conducted an investigation and, after issuing a charge of discrimination, referred the matter to the Department of Justice.  

 

Under the terms of the settlement, which is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court, the defendants will pay the complainants $47,500 in damages.   Defendants will also pay a civil penalty of $10,000 to the United States.   Defendant Geneva Terrace Apartments LLC will also develop and maintain non-discrimination housing policies and attend fair housing training.  

 

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.

 

Fighting housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department.    The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex familial status, national origin and disability.    More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt .   Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination or have information related to this lawsuit can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov  or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.

Justice Department Files Fair Housing Lawsuit Against Florida Homeowners Association and Management Company for Discrimination Against Families with Children

The Justice Department on Oct. 10 filed a lawsuit against the homeowners association and former manager of a 249-townhome community in Gibsonton, Fla., for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against families with children.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, charges that Townhomes of Kings Lake HOA Inc. engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act by adopting, maintaining, ratifying, and, along with Vanguard Management Group Inc., enforcing occupancy standards unduly limiting the number of individuals who can reside in the townhomes.  The suit also charges that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act by threatening to evict a couple and their six minor children from the four-bedroom townhome they were renting and by taking other actions to interfere with their tenancy.

“The Fair Housing Act ensures that families with children have an equal right to use and enjoy housing of their choice,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws that protect the rights of families with children.”

The lawsuit arose when the family filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).   After the family had moved into the home, the management company and the homeowners association indicated there was a problem with the number of children living there.   The defendants’ occupancy policy allowed only six individuals to occupy the home, which was far more stringent than what Hillsborough County permitted.   The homeowners association also adopted similarly restrictive limitations on the number of individuals who could live in two- and three-bedroom townhomes in Kings Lake.  After HUD investigated the complaint, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department.

“Housing providers may set occupancy standards but those standards cannot be so restrictive that they exclude families who, based on a home’s overall size and configuration, should be able to live there,” said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD and the Department of Justice are committed to taking action against anyone who unlawfully denies housing to families with children.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions, and a civil penalty.  Any individuals who have information relevant to this case are urged to contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt.  Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.

 

 

Justice Department Releases Investigative Findings on the Alamance County, N.C., Sheriff’s Office

Findings Show Pattern or Practice of Discriminatory Policing Against Latinos

 

 

Following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department announced on Sept. 18 its findings that the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) in North Carolina, under the leadership of Sheriff Terry S. Johnson, engages in a pattern or practice of misconduct that violates the Constitution and federal law.   The department conducted its investigation, which it opened on June 2, 2010, pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI).

 

The Justice Department finds reasonable cause to believe that ACSO engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing against Latinos in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and Title VI.   ACSO’s discriminatory policing activities include:

  • ACSO deputies target Latino drivers for traffic stops;
  • A study of ACSO’s traffic stops on three major county roadways found that deputies were between four and 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latino drivers;
  • ACSO deputies routinely locate checkpoints just outside Latino neighborhoods, forcing residents to endure police checks when entering or leaving their communities;
  • ACSO practices at vehicle checkpoints often vary based on a driver’s ethnicity.   Deputies insist on examining identification of Latino drivers, while allowing drivers of other ethnicities to pass through without showing identification;
  • ACSO deputies arrest Latinos for minor traffic violations while issuing citations or warnings to non-Latinos for the same violations;
  • ACSO uses jail booking and detention practices, including practices related to immigration status checks, that discriminate against Latinos;
  • The sheriff and ACSO’s leadership explicitly instruct deputies to target Latinos with discriminatory traffic stops and other enforcement activities;
  • The sheriff and ACSO leadership foster a culture of bias by using anti-Latino epithets; and
  • ACSO engages in substandard reporting and monitoring practices that mask its discriminatory conduct.

 

Taken together, these practices undermine ACSO’s ability to serve and protect Alamance County’s Latino residents and the community at large.  

 

“The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office’s egregious pattern of racial profiling violates the Constitution and federal laws, creates distrust between the police and the community and inhibits the reporting of crime and cooperation in criminal investigations,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “Constitutional policing and effective law enforcement go hand-in-hand. We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings by working collaboratively with ACSO, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if ACSO chooses a different course.”

 

The Justice Department’s thorough and independent investigation included an in-depth review of ACSO policies, procedures, training materials, and data on traffic stops, arrests, citations, vehicle checkpoints and other documentary evidence.   Department personnel also conducted interviews with more than 125 individuals, including Alamance County residents and current and former ACSO employees.  

 

Addressing these findings and creating sustainable reforms will require ACSO to commit to long term structural, cultural and institutional change.   In particular, ACSO must develop and implement new policies, procedures and training in effective and constitutional policing.   Any reform efforts must also include systems of accountability to ensure that ACSO has eliminated unlawful bias from its decision making at all levels.

 

The department will seek to obtain a court enforceable, comprehensive, written agreement remedying the violations and incorporating these reforms by attempting to work with ACSO officials.  

 

The Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division conducted this investigation with the assistance of consultants in law enforcement and statistical analysis.   Members of the Alamance County community who wish to provide information to the department may call 1-877-871-9726 or email alamance.info@usdoj.gov .   For more information on the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt .

 

 

California Landlord Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit for $2.13 Million

The Justice Department on Sept. 11 announced that Rawland Leon Sorensen, the owner and manager of dozens of residential rental properties in Bakersfield, Calif., will be obligated to pay more than $2 million in monetary damages and civil penalties to settle a Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging that he sexually harassed women tenants and prospective tenants.

 

The department’s complaint alleges that Sorensen sexually harassed the women by making unwelcome sexual comments and advances, exposing his genitals to women tenants, touching women without their consent, granting and denying housing benefits based on sex and taking adverse actions against women who refused his sexual advances. Sorensen has operated his rental business for more than 30 years. This represents the largest monetary settlement ever agreed to in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the Justice Department under the Fair Housing Act.

 

The consent decree, which is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court, will result in a judgment against Sorensen requiring him to pay $2,075,000 in monetary damages to 25 individuals identified by the United States as victims of his discriminatory conduct. That amount includes court costs and attorneys’ fees for two of the victims who are private plaintiffs. In addition, Sorensen must also pay a $55,000 civil penalty to the United States, the maximum penalty available under the Fair Housing Act. The consent decree requires Sorensen to hire an independent manager to manage his rental properties and imposes strict limits on his ability to have contact with current and future tenants.

 

“The conduct in this case was egregious,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Women have the right to feel safe in their homes and not to be subjected to sexual harassment just because their families need housing. The Justice Department can and will vigorously prosecute landlords who violate those rights.”

 

“The Eastern District of California is committed to enforcing the civil rights of all persons in the District,” said Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. “This case involved a course of conduct that spanned several years and affected many vulnerable persons. The decree sends a strong message to property owners that discrimination will not be tolerated.”

 

Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt . Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.

 

 

Justice Department Releases Investigative Findings Showing Violation of Constutional Rights in Kansas Correctional Facility

Following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department on Sept. 6 released its letter of findings determining that the Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF), an all-female facility in Topeka, Kan., under the jurisdiction of the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC), fails to protect women prisoners from harm due to sexual abuse and misconduct from correctional staff and other prisoners in violation of their constitutional rights.  The Justice Department delivered a letter detailing the findings to Governor Samuel D. Brownback and Secretary of the KDOC Ray Roberts. 

 

The investigation was conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and focused on whether prisoners at the facility were subject to sexual abuse in violation of their constitutional rights.  The Justice Department, with the assistance of an expert consultant in custodial sexual abuse, found that KDOC and TCF violate women prisoners’ constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by continuing to expose them to harm and the serious risk of harm from prisoner-on-prisoner and employee-on-prisoner sexual abuse and assault.

 

The investigation concluded that TCF fails to protect women prisoners from sexual abuse and misconduct from correctional staff and other prisoners in violation of their constitutional rights.  TCF has a past history of officer-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse and misconduct.  The women at TCF live in an environment with repeated and open sexual behavior, including sexual relations between staff and prisoners and non-consensual sexual conduct between the female prisoners.  Much of the inappropriate sexual behavior, including sexual abuse, continues and remains unreported due to insufficient staffing and supervision, a heightened fear of retaliation, a dysfunctional grievance system and inadequate investigative processes.  To date, KDOC and TCF have failed to remedy the myriad systemic causes of harm to the women prisoners at TCF despite repeated, well-documented and detailed investigations and audits exposing the problems.

 

“Our investigation has revealed that multiple deficiencies in the operations of the Topeka Correctional Facility have exposed female prisoners to harm and the serious risk of harm from prisoner-on-prisoner and employee-on-prisoner sexual abuse and assault,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “It is our strong desire to work with both the facility and the Kansas Department of Corrections to implement reforms to address these repeatedly-documented deficiencies.”

 

The department’s investigation involved an in-depth review and analysis of a broad array of documents, including policies and procedures, incident reports, investigative reports, prisoner grievances, disciplinary reports, unit logs, orientation materials, medical records, staff training materials and video footage.  The Justice Department interviewed administrative staff, security staff, medical and mental health staff, facilities management staff, training staff and prisoners.

 

Throughout the investigation, the Justice Department provided feedback and technical assistance to TCF officials.  

 

“Our office stands ready to work with the state of Kansas on solving the problems in the Topeka Correctional Facility,” said Barry Grissom, U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas. “The report has identified a very serious and troubling situation at the facility.  Action needs to be taken immediately.”     

 

The Justice Department looks forward to continued cooperation with the State of Kansas, KDOC and TCF to timely resolve these findings under mutually agreeable terms that will provide accountability and accomplish the remedial measures within a fixed period of time.  

 

For more information on the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt .

 

 

Justice Department Settles Discrimination Claim Against Illinois Company

The Justice Department announced on Aug. 22 that it had reached an agreement with MicroLink Devices, a manufacturer of semiconductor structures and advanced solar cells based in Niles, Ill.  The agreement resolves allegations that the company violated the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), when it placed six online job postings that explicitly stated citizenship status preferences or requirements that excluded certain work-authorized non-citizens from consideration. 

 

Under the INA, employers may not discriminate on the basis of citizenship status unless required to comply with law, regulation, executive order or government contract.   Although MicroLink Devices is a party to several federal contracts subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which control the export and import of sensitive technology, ITAR does not require or permit employers to limit job applicants to or prefer U.S. citizens in the hiring process.  The job postings therefore impermissibly discriminated against non-citizen workers eligible for the advertised positions, such as lawful permanent residents, refugees and those given asylum in the United States.

 

Under the settlement agreement, MicroLink Devices will pay $12,000 in civil penalties to the United States.  MicroLink Devices further agreed to revise its hiring and recruiting procedures, conform future job postings to the requirements of the law, and to be subject to training, reporting and compliance and monitoring requirements.   The case settled prior to the Justice Department filing a complaint in this matter.

 

“Employers must give all eligible candidates the equal opportunity to compete for employment,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “The department is committed to ensuring employers do not discriminate against protected individuals based on citizenship status.”

 

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, which protects work-authorized individuals from employment discrimination on the basis of citizenship status or national origin discrimination, including discrimination in hiring and the employment eligibility verification (Form I-9) process. 

 

For more information about protections against employment discrimination under the immigration laws, call the OSC’s worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688 or the OSC’s employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155.  TDD for hearing impaired is 800-237-2515.  You may also sign up for a no-cost webinar at www.justice.gov/crt/osc/webinars.php , email osccrt@usdoj.gov or visit the website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc .

 

 

Justice Department Signs Agreements in Texas and Georgia to Ensure Civic Access for People with Disabilities

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on July 24 announced agreements with Wills Point, Texas, and Randolph County, Ga., to improve access to all aspects of civic life for individuals with disabilities.  The agreements were reached under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The department has now reached 199 agreements under the PCA initiative.

“This week marks the 22nd anniversary of the passage of the ADA as the Justice Department continues to pursue nationwide compliance with this great civil rights law through its vigilant enforcement efforts,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Through Project Civic Access the Justice Department has worked with large metropolitan areas with populations in the millions as well as small rural communities with residents numbering in the thousands in order to ensure that courthouses, parks, community centers, museums, libraries and all other state and local government buildings, programs, services and activities in these communities are accessible to individuals with disabilities.  I commend the officials in Wills Point and Randolph County for making this commitment to provide equal access to their residents and visitors with disabilities.”

PCA was initiated to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in civic life, a fundamental part of American society.  As part of the PCA initiative, Justice Department investigators, attorneys and architects survey state and local government facilities, services and programs in communities across the country to identify the modifications needed for compliance with ADA requirements.

The agreements are tailored to address the steps each community must take to come into compliance with the ADA.  PCA agreements typically include requirements to make physical modifications to public facilities so that, among other elements, parking, routes into buildings, entrances, assembly areas, restrooms, service counters and drinking fountains are accessible to people with disabilities.  Other common provisions address effective communication (e.g. telephone communications), grievance procedures, polling places, emergency management procedures and policies, sidewalks, domestic violence programs, and ensuring that an entity’s official website and other web-based services are accessible to persons with disabilities.

According to census data, 23.8 percent of residents in Wills Point and 27.3 percent of residents in Randolph County have a disability.

Today’s agreements were reached under Title II of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local governments.  The agreement with Wills Point requires most actions to be completed within three years.  For the required accessibility modifications to sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, transportation stops and curb ramps, the city will work with the disability community to prioritize and complete these modifications within five years.   The Randolph County agreement will remain in effect for three years.  The department will actively monitor compliance with the agreements until it has confirmed that all required actions have been completed.

People interested in finding out more about the ADA, today’s agreements, the PCA initiative or the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments can access the ADA website at www.ada.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

The agreement with Wills Point is available at www.ada.gov/wills-point-pca/wills-point-sa.htm, and a fact sheet on the agreement is available at www.ada.gov/wills-point-pca/wills-point-sa-fact_sheet.htm.   The agreement with Randolph County is available at www.ada.gov/randolph-co-pca/randolph-co-sa.htm, and a fact sheet on the agreement is available at www.ada.gov/randolph-co-pca/randolph-co-fact_sheet.htm.

 

Justice Department Files Complaint Against Two Texas State Agencies for Pay Discrimination

The Justice Department on July 11 filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and Texas General Land Office (GLO) alleging that both state agencies are liable for discrimination against three female employees on the basis of sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, which occurred at Texas Department of Rural Affairs (TDRA). Title VII is a federal statute which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin or religion.

 

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas, alleges that the TDA and GLO, both of which assumed responsibilities of the now defunct TDRA, discriminated against three women in Program Specialist VII positions by paying them significantly less than their male colleagues for performing substantially the same work.

 

According to the complaint, the TDRA analyzed the salaries of all Program Specialist VIIs in the Disaster Recovery Division, found that the salaries of the women fell significantly short of those of men in comparable positions, and raised the women’s salaries. However, after the TDRA concluded that pay disparities existed between men and women, it did not raise women’s salaries to be comparable to the wages made by their male counterparts, nor did it compensate the women for the substantial amount of time their salaries were undervalued.

 

The suit also alleges that the women were subject to retaliation through the agency’s termination of their employment as an outgrowth of their claims of sex discrimination in compensation.

 

The complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the TDA and GLO to ensure that policies are in place to prevent their employees from being subjected to discrimination and retaliation, as well as monetary damages for the total time the women's salaries were undervalued, both after the raise and throughout the entire time of the women's employment in the Program Specialist VII position. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has also filed a lawsuit against the TDA and GLO alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act.   The department will collaborate with the EEOC in seeking remedies.

 

“This lawsuit highlights the critical need for continued attention to equal pay issues in this country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The wage gap between women and men persists, and the Civil Rights Division is committed to using all the tools available under this nation’s employment discrimination laws to ensure equal pay for equal work. We are pleased to collaborate with the EEOC in this critical enforcement effort.”

 

The continued enforcement of Title VII has been a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.usdoj.gov/crt .

 

 

Justice Department Reaches Settlement Agreement in Longstanding Alabama Desegregation Case

The Justice Department announced on June 26 that it reached a settlement agreement with the Fort Payne City School District in Alabama and private plaintiffs in a longstanding school desegregation case.   The parties filed a proposed consent order in the federal district court in Birmingham, Ala.

If approved by the court, the proposed order would declare the 3,100-student school district partially unitary in the areas of extracurricular activities, school facilities and transportation, and would dismiss the case in those areas.   The order would require the district to take additional steps to reach full compliance, including ensuring that its student transfer practices do not impede desegregation and taking measures to promote racial diversity in its faculty and staff.   The district may seek full dismissal of the case upon compliance with the terms of the two-year agreement.   If approved, the U.S. will monitor and enforce the district’s compliance with the order.

“We are pleased that the Fort Payne City school district has demonstrated significant progress in complying with its desegregation obligations and a willingness to take additional measures to reach our mutual goal of ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “We look forward to working with the district over the next two years to implement the measures required by this order and bring this case to a close after so many years.”

This case is part of a statewide desegregation lawsuit, Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, which was filed in 1963.

The enforcement of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that bars race discrimination in public schools is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.

 

South Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Committing Federal Hate Crime Against African-American Teenager

Chase McClary, 23, of Johnsonville, S.C., pleaded guilty June 20 in federal court in the District of South Carolina to violating the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in his violent assault of an African-American teenager.

 

During his guilty plea, McClary admitted that in August 2010, he approached a 16-year-old African-American male and struck him numerous times with the jagged end of a broken coffee mug because of the victim’s race.   The attack resulted in severe injuries to the victim’s head, face and neck.

 

Sentencing will be set at a later date. The plea agreement calls for a sentence of 48 months in prison.

 

“Motivated by hate, the defendant attacked a teenager and scarred him for life.   No one should have to endure such an abhorrent act of criminal violence,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will vigorously prosecute cases of bias motivated violence to the full extent of the law.”

 

 “Prosecution of hate-based crime – whether the motive is the color of skin, sexua l orientation, religion, gender or national origin – is critical to the American way of life and the justice system,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles for the District of South Carolina.  I want to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the F lorence County Sheriff’s Office and Ed Clements, the Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor, for their work on this civil rights case.” 

 

This case was investigated by Special Agent Steven Stokes of the FBI, with assistance from the Florence County Sheriff’s Investigator Alvin Powell, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Parham and Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Christopher Lomax.

 

 

Justice Department to Monitor Election in Maryland

The Justice Department announced June 19 that the Civil Rights Division will monitor the municipal election on June 20, 2012, in Crisfield, Md.  The monitoring will ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group.

 

Justice Department personnel will monitor polling place activities in Crisfield.  A Civil Rights Division attorney will coordinate federal activities and maintain contact with local election officials.

 

Each year, the Justice Department deploys hundreds of federal observers from the Office of Personnel Management, as well as departmental staff, to monitor elections across the country.  To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, including acts of harassment or intimidation, voters may call the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.

Visit www.justice.gov/crt/voting/index.php for more information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws. 

 

 

 

 

Missouri Woman Sentenced to 63 Months in Prison for Vandalism and Arson of Biracial Man’s Home

A Missouri woman was sentenced on June 18 to 63 months in prison for her role in the vandalism and arson of a biracial man’s home in Independence, Mo., the Department of Justice announced .

 

Teresa Witthar, 43, of Independence, was sentenced in the Western District of Missouri by U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple.

 

On Feb. 2, 2012, Witthar pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the Fair Housing Act and one count of obstruction of justice. Witthar’s co-conspirators, Charles Wilhelm and David Martin, pleaded guilty on March 8, 2012, and March 7, 2012, respectively, to one count of conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the victim and one count of violating the Fair Housing Act for their roles in vandalizing and burning down Nathaniel Reed’s home in Independence.

 

According to the plea agreement filed with the court, Witthar, Wilhelm and Martin conspired to intimidate and scare Reed, a biracial man, into moving out of the Highland Manor Mobile Home Park in Independence, in part because of his race.  On or about June 6, 2006, Witthar, along with Wilhelm and Martin, entered Reed’s mobile home, without his permission, and vandalized it by writing at least 15 racially derogatory slurs on the walls of his trailer. 

 

Two days later, on or about June 8, 2006, Witthar drove Martin and Wilhelm to a neighborhood behind Reed’s home so that they could set fire to his home without being detected.  Witthar waited in her vehicle for Wilhelm and Martin to set the fire and then provided them a ride back to the Highland Manor Mobile Home Park.

 

The investigation further revealed that in the spring of 2011, Witthar unsuccessfully attempted to persuade another individual to testify falsely in front of a grand jury about her role in the vandalism and fire.  

 

“Violent and destructive acts such as the arson of this man’s home seek to undermine the guarantees of equal justice and equal opportunity that are central to our laws,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Department of Justice will continue to act aggressively to ensure that every American enjoys the right to occupy a home free of racially motivated intimidation and violence.”

 

“Today's tough sentence makes it clear that our community will not tolerate racially-motivated violence and intimidation,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri David M. Ketchmark. “We are satisfied that this defendant is being held accountable for the arson, vandalism and threats that violated Mr. Reed's civil rights. By defending one victim’s right to live freely in his own home, we are upholding Constitutional freedoms for all citizens.”

 

Sentencing for Wilhelm is scheduled for July 24, 2012.   Sentencing for Martin is scheduled for July 26, 2012.

 

These guilty pleas were the result of a cooperative effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  This case was investigated by the Kansas City Division of the FBI.   It is being prosecuted by Acting U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark for the Western District of Missouri and Trial Attorney Sheldon L. Beer of the Civil Rights Division.

 

 

Justice Department Reaches $21 Million Settlement to Resolve Allegations of Lending Discrimination by Suntrust Mortgage

Borrowers Were Charged Higher Fees Based on Their Race or National Origin in 2005-2009 Before the Company Implemented New Policies

WASHINGTON – SunTrust Mortgage Inc., the mortgage lending subsidiary of the nation’s 11th-largest commercial bank, has agreed to pay $21 million to resolve a lawsuit by the Department of Justice that it engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination that increased loan prices for many of the qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers who obtained loans between 2005 and 2009 through SunTrust Mortgage’s regional retail offices and national network of mortgage brokers.

The settlement also requires SunTrust Mortgage to continue using policies and practices it adopted to prevent discrimination following the time period at issue in the lawsuit.
 
The settlement, which is subject to court approval, was filed May 31 in federal court in Richmond, Va., where SunTrust Mortgage is headquartered.  The settlement comes after a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the Department of Justice, which included reviewing internal company documents and data on more than 850,000 residential mortgage loans SunTrust Mortgage originated between 2005 and 2009.  SunTrust Mortgage cooperated fully with the Justice Department’s investigation into its lending practices and agreed to settle this matter without contested litigation.

“Today’s settlement demonstrates that the Department of Justice takes seriously its responsibility to investigate mortgage lending practices during the mortgage boom years and, when the evidence shows the law was broken, to obtain compensation for victims of illegal conduct,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “We will, however, work constructively with responsible lenders like SunTrust Mortgage that are willing to take the necessary steps to ensure equal credit opportunity for all borrowers.  We commend SunTrust Mortgage for taking action to implement strong fair lending policies even before they knew the full results of our investigation.” 

The settlement was filed in conjunction with the department’s complaint that alleges SunTrust Mortgage violated the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act by charging more than 20,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees and interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers, not based on borrower risk, but because of their race or national origin.  Specifically, the allegations involve loans made to African-American borrowers between 2005 and 2008 through the more than 200 retail offices directly operated by SunTrust Mortgage in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic portions of the United States.  The allegations also involve loans made to African-American and Hispanic borrowers between 2005 and 2009 through SunTrust Mortgage’s national network of mortgage brokers. 

“Racial and ethnic bias have no place in the lending market,” said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We are pleased that SunTrust Mortgage is taking steps to compensate the victims and to ensure fair and equal access to credit in the future.”

SunTrust Mortgage’s business practice during the time periods covered by the lawsuit allowed its loan officers and mortgage brokers to vary a loan’s interest rate and other fees from the price it set based on the borrower’s objective credit-related factors.  This subjective and unguided pricing discretion resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying more. 

Prior to the settlement, SunTrust Mortgage had implemented policies that substantially reduced the discretion of its loan officers and mortgage brokers to vary a loan’s interest rate and other fees from the price it set based on the borrower’s objective credit-related factors, and that required the reasons for variations to be documented and reviewed by a supervisor.  Those policies, operating in concert with rules imposed by the Federal Reserve in April 2011 and incorporated into the settlement, restrict compensating loan officers and mortgage brokers based on the terms or conditions of a particular loan.  Today’s settlement requires SunTrust Mortgage to keep its improved policies in place for at least the next three years, as well as continuing to monitor its lending for signs of discrimination and providing monitoring reports to the United States.

The department’s investigation into SunTrust Mortgage’s lending practices began after a referral by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in December 2009 for potential patterns or practices of discrimination.  SunTrust Mortgage’s parent company, Atlanta-based SunTrust Bank, is a member of the Federal Reserve System, and one of the nation’s largest regional banks with $178 billion in assets and more than 1,600 branches in seven states and the District of Columbia. 

“Racial or other illegal discrimination has no place in our credit markets,” said Federal Reserve Board Governor Elizabeth A. Duke.  “We are pleased that this settlement is designed to ensure fair access to credit.”

Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF).  President Obama established the interagency FFETF to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.   The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.   The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.  For more information on the task force, visit www.StopFraud.gov.

A copy of the complaint and proposed settlement order, as well as additional information about fair lending enforcement by the Justice Department, can be obtained from the Justice Department website at www.justice.gov/fairhousing

The proceeds of the settlement will be used to compensate the victims of SunTrust Mortgage’s discrimination, who were located in 34 states and the District of Columbia when the discrimination occurred.  The proposed settlement provides for an independent administrator to contact and distribute payments of compensation at no cost to borrowers whom the Justice Department identifies as victims of SunTrust Mortgage’s discrimination.  Borrowers who are eligible for compensation from the settlement will be contacted by the administrator.  The department will make a public announcement and post contact information on its website once the administrator begins contacting victims.  Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of lending discrimination by SunTrust Mortgage and have questions about the settlement may email the department at suntrust.settlement@usdoj.gov.

 

Justice Department Settles Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Against New York City Transit Authority

The Justice Department announced on May 30 that it has reached a settlement with the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) to resolve allegations that the NYCTA is engaged in a pattern or practice of religious discrimination.

The Justice Department filed its complaint in September 2004 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.   The complaint alleged that the NYCTA violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by selectively enforcing its uniform headwear policies against employees who are unable to comply for religious reasons and by failing or refusing to reasonably accommodate those employees whose religious practices require an accommodation from the NYCTA’s uniform headwear policies.   Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion.  

According to the Justice Department’s complaint, the NYCTA had not enforced its uniform headwear policies prior to Sept. 11, 2001.   However, beginning in or about March 2002, the NYCTA began to selectively enforce those policies against Muslim and Sikh employees, moving them or threatening to move them out of public contact positions because the employees, consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs, refused to attach NYCTA logos to their khimars and turbans, respectively.  

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, which must still be approved by the court, the NYCTA must:   (1) adopt new uniform headwear policies, which would allow employees working in public contact positions to wear khimars, yarmulkes, turbans, kufis, skullcaps, tams and headscarves without attaching anything to the headwear; (2) implement and distribute a new religious accommodation policy consistent with Title VII’s requirement to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of all employees and prospective workers; and   (3) provide guidance to and ensure that training is completed by the NYCTA personnel responsible for implementing the agency’s new religious accommodation policy and procedure.   Additionally, the NYCTA will pay $184,500, divided among eight current and former NYCTA employees who were denied religious accommodations related to the NYCTA’s prior uniform headwear policies.

“This settlement agreement sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will not tolerate religious discrimination,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “I am pleased that the NYCTA has agreed to end its discriminatory practices that for years have forced employees to choose between practicing their religion and maintaining their jobs.”

The continued enforcement of Title VII has been and remains a priority for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available at its website at www.usdoj.gov/crt.

 

Justice Department to Monitor Elections in Texas

 

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced on May 11 that it will monitor municipal elections on May 14, 2011, in Galveston, Jefferson, Liberty, Medina and San Patricio Counties in Texas to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group.  In addition, the act requires certain covered jurisdictions to provide language assistance during the election process.  The monitored jurisdictions are required to provide language assistance in Spanish.

 

Under the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department is authorized to ask the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to send federal observers to jurisdictions that are certified by the attorney general or by a federal court order.  Federal observers will be assigned to monitor polling place activities in Galveston, Jefferson and Medina Counties based on the attorney general’s certification.   The observers will watch and record activities during voting hours at polling locations in these counties, and Civil Rights Division attorneys will coordinate the federal activities and maintain contact with local election officials.  

 

In addition, Justice Department personnel will monitor polling place activities in Liberty and San Patricio Counties.   Civil Rights Division attorneys will coordinate federal activities and maintain contact with local election officials.

 

Each year, the Justice Department deploys hundreds of federal observers from OPM, as well as departmental staff, to monitor elections across the country.  To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, including acts of harassment or intimidation, voters may call the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.

 

Visit www.justice.gov/crt/voting/index.php for more information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws.

MANHATTAN U.S. ATTORNEY RECOVERS $2 MILLION FOR VICTIMS OF ALLEGED SEXUAL HARASSMENT BY LANDLORD

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced on May 8 a settlement of the United States’ lawsuit against STANLEY KATZ, the owner of buildings located at 144 West 73rd Street and 140 West 75th Street, and the previous owner of a building located at 142 West 75th Street, New York, New York, (the "Properties"), WILLIAM BARNASON, the former Superintendent of the Properties, and STEPHEN KATZ, the building manager of the Properties. The Government’s lawsuit alleged that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating on the basis of sex and subjecting numerous female tenants to severe, unwelcome, and pervasive sexual harassment. Under the settlement, the defendants will pay more than $2 million to the tenants who were alleged to have been the victims of the harassment. In addition, the defendants will pay $55,000 in civil penalties, the maximum penalty available under the Fair Housing Act. The settlement agreement, in the form of a consent decree, was submitted today in Manhattan federal court and is subject to approval by U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet. The $2,058,000, agreement represents the largest recovery ever in a sexual harassment suit brought by the United States under the Fair Housing Act.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: "The conduct alleged in this case subjected Stanley Katz’s female tenants to forms of harassment that would be unacceptable in any environment, let alone in their homes – it was also blatantly illegal. The right to live in an environment that is free from sexual harassment is sacrosanct, and conduct that violates that right will not be tolerated. As this case demonstrates, we will aggressively use our authority to protect the right to be free from discrimination in any form."

As alleged in the Complaint and Amended Complaint (the "Complaint") filed in Manhattan Federal Court:

STANLEY KATZ hired BARNASON, a Level 3 registered sex offender, to serve as the superintendent of the Properties. While employed in that role, BARNASON sexually harassed female tenants by: attempting to enter their apartments while inebriated and demanding sex; engaging in unwelcome groping and fondling; subjecting them to unwanted verbal sexual advances; demanding sexual favors in return for tangible housing benefits such as rent reductions; and taking adverse actions against women who refused to comply with his demands for sex. STEPHEN KATZ, who was hired by his father STANLEY to manage the Properties, created a hostile environment for female tenants by repeatedly subjecting them to vulgar and offensive epithets because of their gender, threatening them, and engaging in other intimidating,

humiliating, and abusive behavior. STANLEY KATZ was aware of his employees’ sexual harassment of the tenants, condoned the conduct, and failed to take any steps to halt the harassment despite receiving numerous complaints.

The conduct at issue in this case constitutes severe, unwelcome and pervasive sexual harassment, thereby creating a hostile environment for female tenants and/or amounting to quid pro quo harassment in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act, among other things, prohibits gender-based discrimination in connection with rentals, or in the provision of services in connection with rentals.

Under the terms of the settlement:

  • The defendants are enjoined from discriminating against any person in the terms or conditions of renting a dwelling because of sex.
  • STANLEY KATZ is prohibited from managing the Properties.
  • STANLEY KATZ must implement a written policy against sexual harassment at his Properties; educate his employees on federal housing discrimination laws; and provide requested information to the Government about rental activity at his Properties.
  • BARNASON is permanently enjoined from entering the Properties in the future and from having any involvement in the management or maintenance of occupied rental housing properties. He will only be permitted to perform maintenance in completely unoccupied properties, or in the vacant apartments of occupied properties when accompanied by a third party.
  • STEPHEN KATZ must complete a program of educational training focusing on the sexual discrimination provisions of federal, state, and local fair housing laws, regulations, and ordinances.

Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Department of Justice. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status (having one or more children under 18), national origin, and disability. Persons who believe they have experienced or witnessed unlawful housing discrimination may call the U.S. Attorney's Office civil rights complaint hotline in the Southern District of New York at 1-212-637-0840, the national Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

Justice Department Announces Investigations of the Handling of Sexual Assault Allegations by the University of Montana, the Missoula, Mont., Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office
In Light of at Least 80 Reported Rapes in Missoula in the Past Three Years, the Justice Department Will Investigate Responses to Sexual Assault Allegations
 

The Department of Justice on May 1 announced a series of investigations stemming from allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment at the University of Montana and in the greater Missoula, Mont., community.   These investigations will seek to determine whether gender discrimination affected the prevention, investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults and sexual harassment in Missoula.

 

The department has opened a Title IX compliance review and Title IV investigation regarding the University of Montana’s response to sexual assaults and sexual harassment of students.  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 each prohibit sex discrimination, including sexual assault and sexual harassment, in education programs.  There have been at least 11 reported sexual assaults involving university students in an 18-month period.  The department will also coordinate with the Department of Education on a related sexual harassment complaint received by that department.

 

The Justice Department also announced today that it has opened a civil pattern or practice investigation into the University of Montana’s Office of Public Safety (OPS), the Missoula Police Department (MPD) and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office.  This investigation will focus on allegations that OPS, MPD and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office are failing to adequately investigate and prosecute alleged sexual assaults against women in Missoula, due to gender discrimination in violation of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.  There have been at least 80 alleged rapes in Missoula in the past three years.  The investigation will look at assaults against all women in Missoula, not just university students.

 

Department officials met with city, police and university officials, who pledged their full cooperation with the investigations.

  

“The allegations that the University of Montana, the local police department and the County Attorney’s Office failed to adequately address sexual assaults are very disturbing,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “The department's pattern or practice authority enables us to ensure that law enforcement agencies are doing what is necessary to combat this despicable crime without discrimination, and we take that responsibility seriously.”

 

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment are intolerable; they undermine women’s basic rights and, when perpetrated against students, can negatively impact their ability to learn and continue their education,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “As we approach the 40th anniversary of Title IX this year, incidents of sexual assault on our college campuses remind us of the continuing critical importance of the law to reduce barriers in education. Our goal is to determine whether there are violations of federal law and if we find a problem, work cooperatively with the University of Montana and local law enforcement to ensure that all students and Missoula residents feel safe in their communities, regardless of sex.   We salute President Engstrom’s commitment to address these serious problems.”

 

“Colleges and universities have an obligation to stop and prevent sexual violence against their students, and law enforcement has a fundamental duty to ensure it is properly investigating and prosecuting crimes of sexual assault, whether they occur at the university or in the wider Missoula community,” said Michael W. Cotter , U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana.  “We look forward to working with the University of Montana and local law enforcement to ensure these vital obligations are met.” 

 

The department previously found a pattern or practice of gender discrimination in the New Orleans Police Department.   Similarly, the department found problems of significant concern involving the handling of sex crimes in both the Puerto Rico Police Department and the Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Office. 

 

Attorneys from the Educational Opportunities Section and the Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana are jointly conducting this investigation.   People with information related to the sexual assaults or sexual harassment in Missoula are encouraged to contact the Department of Justice at 1-855-307-6103 or at community.missoula@usdoj.gov .

 

The enforcement of Title IV, Title IX, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and the Safe Streets Act are top priorities of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt .   Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana is available on its website at www.justice.gov/usao/mt .

 
Departments of Justice and Education Reach Settlement with Boston Public Schools to Ensure Equal Opportunites for ELL Students

The Department of Justice and the Department of Education on April 23 reached agreement with the Boston Public Schools (the district) and its superintendent to ensure that English Language Learner (ELL) students in Boston receive the services and supports they need to overcome language barriers, as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This agreement replaces an interim settlement agreement entered on Oct. 1, 2010, which required the district to implement short-term remedies to ensure that thousands of students improperly excluded from the district’s ELL programs were promptly assessed and provided services. 

 

The agreement reached today governs the district’s transition from these short-term remedies to longer-term policies and programs that expand the coverage of Boston’s ELL program and are designed to ensure that the services provided to ELL students are of high quality, delivered by qualified teachers and tailored to the specific needs of each individual student.   The agreement requires the district to continue its efforts to accurately identify and place ELL students, and further ensures that ELL students, who face unique challenges, including students with interrupted former education and students with disabilities, receive assessments and services that are specially designed to address and ameliorate those challenges.   The agreement also affords ELL students greater access to the higher-level learning opportunities in the district. To ensure these programmatic changes are effective, the agreement further requires the district to evaluate the effect of these changes on student achievement over time through robust, disaggregated data analyses.

 

“We applaud the Boston Public Schools for working collaboratively with the United States to develop a comprehensive plan to effectively serve all students who are not proficient in English,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “We believe this plan can guide other school districts seeking to ensure that its English Language Learner programs not only meet the requirements of federal law, but also empower English Language Learner students to strive for success in their education and lives.”   

 

“A key to success is access to a high quality education and today, the Boston Public Schools is promising to provide limited English proficient students an equal opportunity for success by giving them access to programs and services tailored to meet their needs, including access to accelerated programs,” said Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education.   “The Department of Education is committed to working with the Boston School Committee as it implements this comprehensive plan.”    

 

Our education system must provide our children with opportunities to develop into productive citizens regardless of their proficiency in English.  When English language learners lack properly trained teachers, those opportunities are curtailed,” said U.S.  Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz of the District of Massachusetts.  “We share the goal of continued improvement to Massachusetts schools and look forward to the progress of this collaborative effort.”

 

The enforcement of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act and Title VI are top priorities of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt .   Enforcement of Title VI is also a top priority of Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Additional information about the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is available on its website at www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html .

 
Justice Department Announces Agreement with Orange County, New York, to Protect the Rights of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican Voters

The Justice Department on April 20 announced a settlement with Orange County, N.Y., to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican voters under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act.   Today’s consent decree is intended to resolve concerns that limited-English proficient Puerto Rican voters were being denied their full voting rights because the county failed to provide bilingual ballots and Spanish-language assistance as required by law.  

 

Orange County has agreed that, starting with the April 24, 2012 presidential primary election, it will provide county-wide bilingual ballots at the polls.   The consent decree includes additional steps that the county will take to achieve full compliance with Section 4(e) by the next election held in 2012.  For example, the county will provide bilingual poll workers and the consent decree would also create a community-based Spanish-language advisory committee, which would allow the local Puerto Rican community to help shape the county’s bilingual election program.  

 

“Puerto Rican voters in Orange County were denied the right to vote when election officials denied language assistance to eligible voters,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “Today’s agreement will ensure that Spanish-speaking voters have equal access to the ballot box and receive critical language assistance as the law requires so their votes will count.   I greatly appreciate the cooperation of county officials in working closely with us to reach this resolution.”

 

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said: “The ability of citizens to participate effectively in the electoral process is the cornerstone of our democracy.   For many years, Orange County denied Puerto Rican voters their right to meaningfully participate in the electoral process by conducting English-only elections in violation of the Voting Rights Act.   The settlement announced today ensures that these citizens have an equal ability to participate in our democracy.”   

 

The consent decree along with a complaint alleging violations of Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act was filed with the federal court in the Southern District of New York.   The Civil Rights Division brought this action in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  

 

Section 4(e) prohibits jurisdictions from conditioning the voting rights of citizens educated in American-flag schools where the predominant classroom language is other than English, on their ability to read, write, understand, or interpret election-related information in English.   Orange County has a significant Puerto Rican population which is protected by Section 4(e) because the primary language in schools in Puerto Rico is Spanish.   The 2010 Census data shows that the Puerto Rican population in Orange County has increased by 52.5 percent in the last decade, and there are now more than 29,210 Puerto Ricans in Orange County, constituting 7.8 percent of its total population.

 

To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, voters may call the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.   More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting rights laws is available on the Justice Department website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting/index.php .

 
Two Harlan County, Kentucky, Men Indicted for Federal Hate Crime Against Individual Because of Sexual Orientation
The Indictment Marks the First Case Charged Under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act Involving Sexual Orientation

WASHINGTON – Two Harlan County, Ky., men were indicted on April 12 for their roles in kidnapping and assaulting a gay man because of his sexual orientation, the Justice Department announced today.

A federal grand jury in London, Ky., returned a three-count indictment charging David Jason Jenkins, 37, and Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20, for kidnapping and assaulting Kevin Pennington, and for conspiring with each other and with other unnamed individuals to commit the kidnapping.  The indictment charges the men with committing a hate crime in violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal jurisdiction to include certain assaults motivated by someone’s sexual orientation.  This case marks the first federal hate crime charging a violation of the sexual orientation provision of the statute.

The indictment alleges that on April 4, 2011, the two defendants kidnapped and assaulted Kevin Pennington because of Pennington’s sexual orientation.  According to the indictment, the defendants enlisted two women to trick Pennington into getting into a truck with the defendants, so that the defendants could drive Pennington to a state park and assault him.  According to the indictment, the defendants then drove Pennington a secluded area of the Kingdom Come State Park in Kentucky and assaulted him.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of up to life in prison for each charge.

The Shepard-Byrd law, enacted in 2009, criminalizes acts of physical violence causing bodily injury motivated by any person’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. 

This case was investigated by Special Agents Anthony Sankey and Mike Brown with the FBI.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins with the U.S. Attorney Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky and Trial Attorney Angie Cha with the Civil Rights Division.

An indictment is only an accusation, and the defendants are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

 
Arkansas Man Sentenced for His Role in Firebombing Residence of Interracial Couple

The Department of Justice announced on April 6 that Gary Dodson, 33, of Waldron, Ark., was sentenced in Little Rock for his involvement in firebombing the residence of an interracial couple.   On Dec. 7, 2011, Dodson pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the civil rights, criminal interference with housing rights due to race and possession of an unregistered firearm/destructive device.    District Judge Billy Roy Wilson sentenced Dodson to 15 years in prison and 3 years of supervised release for the three counts of conviction.

 

During his plea, Dodson admitted that on the night of Jan. 14, 2011, he attended a party where he and three other men, Jake Murphy, Dustin Hammond and Jason Barnwell, devised a plan to firebomb the victims’ house.   Dodson then drove the other men to purchase gas for the firebomb and then Dodson drove everyone to the victims’ house in Hardy, Ark. When they arrived, Barnwell, Murphy and Hammond constructed three Molotov cocktails and threw them at the house.   They damaged the victims’ house; however, no one was injured.

 

Murphy and Hammond previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to and violating the civil rights of the victim.   Both received sentences of 54 months incarceration and three years of supervised release.   In June 2011, Wendy Treybig, who co-hosted the party on Jan. 14, 2011, with Barnwell, pleaded guilty to obstructing justice.   She was sentenced on Dec. 13, 2011, to 21 months incarceration and three years of supervised release.   Jason Barnwell pleaded guilty on Aug. 26, 2011, and was sentenced on Jan. 27, 2012 to 20 years incarceration.

 

“With today’s sentencing, we can finally close the book on this terrible incident of racial hatred,” stated Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez.    “The sentence reflects the gravity of these kinds of crimes.   The Civil Rights Division will continue to pursue justice in hate crimes such as these, where victims are targeted because of the color of their skin.”

 

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Christopher R. Thyer said, “The very strength we have in our communities is a result of the diversity of its people.   Those who perpetrate crimes against others solely because of racial differences will find, as these four defendants have, that there is a price to pay.   The laws that protect our communities leave no tolerance for hate crimes.”

 

This case was investigated by the Little Rock Office of the FBI and the Little Rock Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, with assistance from the Arkansas State Police, the Hardy and Waldron Police Departments, and the Scott and Sharp County Sheriff’s Offices.    It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White of the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Trial Attorneys Cindy Chung and Henry Leventis of the U.S. Department of Jus tice Civil Rights Division.

 
Ohio Man Pleads Guilty for Cross Burning
WASHINGTON – Brandon Rhodes, 20,  of Marengo, Ohio, pleaded guilty March 1 to a charge related to the burning of a cross in the yard of an African-American juvenile in March 2011, the Justice Department announced today. 

Rhodes pleaded guilty to conspiracy to interfere with the housing rights of another in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, before U.S. District Judge Gregory L. Frost.  Information presented during the plea hearing established that a cross burning occurred on March 2, 2011, at a residence in Bennington Township, Ohio, that was home to an African-American family with three high school children.  The investigation revealed that Rhodes and his co-conspirator agreed to burn a cross in the backyard of the home of one of the children who resided there.  After the six-foot wooden cross was constructed, Rhodes and his co-conspirator transported the cross to the back yard of the African-American family.  Rhodes and his co-conspirator wrote “KKK will make you pay” and another racial derogatory term on the cross.  Rhodes and his co-conspirator poured gasoline on the cross and, using a cigarette lighter, ignited the cross around midnight. 

“A burning cross is a symbol of bigotry and hate and, in this case, it was used to threaten a family.  These incidents have no place in our country, and they are a reminder of the civil rights challenges we still face today,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute hate crimes of this kind.”

“We are committed to working with federal, state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute those who commit crimes driven by intolerance or hatred,” said Carter Stewart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.

Rhodes faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case was investigated by the FBI.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio and Trial Attorney Patricia A. Sumner from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

Justice Department Settles with Georgia School District to Ensure Desegregation of Its Faculty and Staff

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced on Feb. 28 that it has entered into a settlement agreement with the Valdosta City Schools in Georgia to ensure that the school district complies with its obligations to recruit, hire and assign faculty and staff in a nondiscriminatory way in furtherance of its obligations to desegregate its schools.  

 

The consent order, if approved by the court, would modify and extend the terms of a 2008 court order, which required the district, among other things, to eliminate racial disparities in how teachers and staff were assigned to the district’s schools and to engage in efforts to recruit African-American personnel.   The Justice Department determined that, although the district had made significant progress in desegregating its faculty and certified staff, it failed to meet fully the goals established in the earlier order and remained in violation of several terms of that order.   The agreement requires the district to take additional steps to address and correct the remaining violations, including revising its procedures for hiring and conducting reductions in force, and desegregating the faculty at one of the district’s two middle schools by the start of the 2012-2013 school year.  

 

“We applaud the Valdosta City Schools for agreeing to take prompt voluntary corrective actions to ensure that it fully meets its desegregation obligations by the start of the next school year,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “The Civil Rights Division will continue to work to ensure that Valdosta and all school districts under federal desegregation orders fully eliminate the vestiges of segregation in their schools, including in the hiring and assignment of their faculty and staff.”

 

The United States will continue to monitor and enforce the court’s order over the next two years.

 

The enforcement of the Equal Protection Clause and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in school districts is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt .

 
Justice Department Signs Agreement with the City of Humboldt, Kansas, to Ensure Civic Access for People with Disabilities

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on Feb. 8 announced an agreement with the city of Humboldt, Kan., to improve access to all aspects of civic life for individuals with disabilities. The agreement was reached under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The department has now reached 197 agreements under the PCA initiative, improving access to civic life for more than four million individuals with disabilities nationwide.   According to census data, the city population is just under 2,000, and just over 21 percent of Humboldt residents have a disability.

 

“Individuals with disabilities must have the opportunity to participate in civic life in every city, town and county in the country, no matter how large or small, and this agreement represents another positive step forward,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “We applaud Humboldt officials for their commitment to improving access for all residents and visitors with disabilities to the full range of city programs, activities, services and facilities.”

 

“Kansans with disabilities have much to contribute,” said Barry Grissom, U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas.  “This agreement will help remove the barriers that prevent them from participating fully in community life.  I am pleased this matter was resolved without protracted litigation.”

 

PCA was initiated to ensure that persons with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in civic life, a fundamental part of American society.   As part of the PCA initiative, Justice Department investigators, attorneys and architects survey state and local government facilities, services and programs in communities across the country to identify the modifications needed for compliance with ADA requirements. The agreements are tailored to address the steps each community must take to improve access.

 

Under the agreement announced today, Humboldt officials will take several important steps to improve access for individuals with disabilities, such as:

 

  • Making physical modifications to its facilities so that parking, routes into the buildings, entrances, service areas and counters, restrooms, locker rooms and drinking fountains are accessible to persons with disabilities. The agreement specifies which modifications will be made at each facility.
  • Surveying other facilities and programs and making modifications wherever necessary to achieve full compliance with ADA requirements.
  • Implementing a comprehensive plan to improve the accessibility of the city’s sidewalks, transportation stops and pedestrian crossings by installing accessible curb ramps throughout the city.
  • Ensuring that buildings and outdoor facilities that will be built or altered by or on behalf of the city comply with the ADA’s architectural requirements.
  • Officially recognizing the Kansas telephone relay service as a key means of communicating with individuals who are deaf, are hard-of-hearing, or have speech impairments and training staff in using the relay service for telephone communications.
  • Posting, publishing and distributing a notice to inform members of the public of the provisions of Title II of the ADA and their applicability to the city’s programs, services and activities.
  • Ensuring that the city’s official website and other web-based services are accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Developing a method for providing information for interested persons with disabilities concerning the existence and location of the city’s accessible services, activities and programs.
  • Undertaking the required planning and modifications to ensure equal, integrated access to emergency management for individuals with disabilities, including emergency preparedness, notification, evacuation, sheltering, response, clean up, and recovery .

 

Today’s agreement was reached under Title II of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local governments.   The department will actively monitor compliance with today’s agreement, which will remain in effect for three years from Feb. 8, 2012, or until the department has confirmed that all required actions have been completed, whichever is later.  

 

People interested in finding out more about the ADA, today’s agreement, the PCA initiative, or the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments can access the ADA website at  www.ada.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

 

The agreement with the City of Humboldt is available at http://www.ada.gov/humboldt_KS_pca/humboldt_KS_sa.htm.

 
Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Lee County, Florida, for Race and National Origin Discrimination
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced Feb. 6 the filing of a lawsuit against Lee County, Fla., alleging that the county discriminated against three Hispanic employees on the basis of race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.  Title VII is a federal statute which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender, race, color, national origin or religion. 

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, Fla., alleges that Lee County discriminated against tradesworkers Marco Ferreira, Eduardo Rivera and Leonides Sepulveda by subjecting them to racial and ethnic harassment over a period of approximately two years beginning in 2007 and ending in 2009.  According to the complaint, these employees were subjected to the discriminatory actions of several of their co-workers who regularly used racial and ethnic slurs, repeatedly mocked Ferreira’s and Rivera’s accents, refused to perform work assigned by Rivera and made false accusations against Ferreira and Rivera to Lee County’s Office of Equal Opportunity in an effort to have the county terminate the two employees. 

The United States alleges that despite timely complaints about the harassment by the workers to their supervisors, as well as direct observation of the harassment on several occasions by county supervisory employees, Lee County failed to take any meaningful steps to stop the harassment or discipline the harassers until January 2009, when the harassers were terminated.  Through this lawsuit, the United States is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief requiring Lee County to develop and implement policies that would prevent its employees from being subjected to harassment based on race or national origin as well as monetary damages for the victims of the county’s discriminatory actions.   

“No one should have to endure harassment because of his or her race or national origin in the workplace,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing this nation’s employment discrimination laws.”
 
Ferreira, Rivera and Sepulveda initially filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which investigated the matter, determined there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred and referred the matter to the Justice Department.

The continued enforcement of Title VII has been a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt/ and www.justice.gov/crt/about/emp/

Missouri Woman Pleads Guilty for Role in the Vandalism and Arson of a Mobile Home

Teresa Witthar, 43, of Independence, Mo., pleaded guilty Feb. 3 in U.S. District Court in Kansas City to federal hate crime charges in connection with the vandalism and arson of a bi-racial man’s mobile home in 2006.

 

Witthar was indicted by a federal grand jury in August 2011, on one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the Fair Housing Act, one count of using fire to commit a felony, two counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of making false statements for her role in the vandalism and fire of Nathaniel Reed’s mobile home. Witthar entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the Fair Housing Act and one count of obstruction of justice. 

 

According to the indictment, in the summer of 2006, Witthar, Charles Wilhelm and David Martin conspired to intimidate and scare Nathaniel Reed, a bi-racial man, into moving out of the Highland Manor Mobile Home Park in Independence, Mo., in part because of his race.  On or about June 6, 2006, Witthar, along with Wilhelm and Martin, entered Reed’s mobile home, without his permission, and vandalized it by writing at least fifteen racially derogatory slurs on the walls of his trailer.  Two days later, Witthar drove Martin and Wilhelm to a neighbourhood behind Reed’s mobile home so that they could set fire to Reed’s trailer without being detected. Witthar waited in her vehicle while they set the fire and then provided them a ride back to the Highland Manor Mobile Home Park.

 

In the spring of 2011, Witthar unsuccessfully attempted to persuade another individual to testify falsely in front of a grand jury about her role in the vandalism and fire.  

“Every American has the right to enjoy their home free from racially-motivated violence, threats and intimidation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. “The Civil Rights Division will aggressively prosecute those who violate this right.”

 

“When threats and vandalism failed to drive their victim out of the neighborhood, these conspirators escalated their racially-motivated campaign by burning down his home,” said Beth Phillips, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. “The Constitution protects each of us from racially-motivated intimidation, and this defendant will be held accountable for violating Mr. Reed’s civil rights.”

 

“Today’s guilty plea exemplifies the FBI’s continued long term commitment to aggressively pursue justice for those who are victims of racially motivated crimes,” said Brian A. Truchon, Special Agent in Charge of the Kansas City Division of the FBI.

 

The guilty plea was the result of a cooperative effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and the Kansas City Division of the FBI.   The case is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark for the Western District of Missouri and Trial Attorney Sheldon L. Beer of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.

 
Arkansas Men Sentenced in Cross-Burning Case

WASHINGTON – Bradley Branscum, 23, and Tony Branscum, 26, who are first cousins, of Salado, Ark., and Curtis Coffee, 19, of Batesville, Ark., were sentenced for charges relating to their roles in burning a cross in the yard of an African-American resident on Aug. 28, 2010.   Tony Branscum was sentenced on Jan. 20, 2012, to 18 months in prison.   Bradley Branscum and Curtis Coffee were sentenced on Jan. 27.   Bradley Branscum was sentenced to seven months in prison and Curtis Coffee was sentenced today to 18 months in prison.  

 

On Aug. 28, 2010, the three men and a juvenile constructed a cross, placed it in the yard of an African-American resident of Salado and lit it on fire.   The defendants then drove away.   The resident did not suffer injury, and his home was not damaged.   All three men had previously pleaded guilty in this case to interfering with the housing rights of another.

 

“The defendants acted to instill fear because of the victim’s race,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “The Department of Justice remains committed to protecting our communities from such violence and will continue to aggressively prosecute these acts.”

 

This case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by AUSA John Ray White, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Trial Attorney Cindy Chung of the Civil Rights Division.

 
Two Men Sentenced for Racially-Motivated Assault in New Mexico
First Defendants Charged Under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
WASHINGTON – Paul Beebe and Jesse Sanford of Farmington, N.M., were sentenced Jan. 25 in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe, N.M., on federal hate crime charges related to a racially-motivated assault on a 22-year-old developmentally disabled man of Navajo descent, the Department of Justice announced. Beebe was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison followed by three years supervised release. Sanford was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years supervised release. A third defendant, William Hatch, of Fruitland, N.M., previously pleaded guilty in June 2011 to conspiracy to commit a federal hate crime. Hatch has not yet been sentenced.

 

Beebe, Hatch and Sanford were indicted by a federal grand jury in November 2010 on one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (Shepard/Byrd Act). They were the first defendants ever to be charged under this law, which was enacted in October 2009. Beebe pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Shepard/Byrd Act, and Sanford pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit a violation of the Shepard/Byrd Act.  

 

“The sentence imposed today by the court reflects the hateful and heinous nature of the defendants’ actions, and serves as a reminder of courage of the victim who survived those acts and reported these crimes,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will not tolerate violent racially-motivated assaults and will continue to work cooperatively with our state and local partners to aggressively enforce the Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.”

 

“Today the court sentenced Paul Beebe and Jesse Sanford to significant terms of imprisonment for the inexcusable crime of assaulting, branding and scarring a young man simply because he happened to be a Native American,” said Kenneth J. Gonzales, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. “Violence motivated by racial or ethnic hatred exacerbates fear and tears at the fabric of our society. Here in New Mexico, where we celebrate our ethnic, racial and cultural diversity, I will continue to work with the FBI to vigorously investigate and prosecute acts of violence that are motivated by hatred of another’s race or ethnic heritage.”

 

“Today’s sentencing is the result of the hard work of FBI special agents and our law enforcement partners, who were committed to pursuing justice until the perpetrators of this hate crime answered for their actions. But the fight against acts of hatred and intolerance goes on,” said Carol K.O. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI. “The Albuquerque FBI Division will continue to work with our federal, state and local law enforcement colleagues to investigate hate crimes, the number one priority of our Civil Rights Program.”

  

During their plea hearing in August 2011, Beebe and Sanford admitted that Beebe took the victim to his apartment, which was adorned in racist paraphernalia, including a Nazi flag and a woven dream catcher with a swastika in it. After the victim had fallen asleep, the defendants began defacing the victim’s body by drawing on him with blue, red and black markers. Once the victim awoke, Beebe branded the victim, who sat with a towel in his mouth, by heating a wire hanger on a stove and burning the victim’s flesh, causing a permanent deep impression of a swastika in his skin. The defendants used a cell phone to create a recording of the victim in which they coerced him to agree to be branded.

 

The defendants also admitted that they defaced the victim’s body with white supremacist and anti-Native American symbols, including shaving a swastika in the back of the victim’s head and using markers to write the words “KKK” and “White Power” within the lines of the swastika. The defendants further mocked the victim’s heritage by drawing an ejaculating penis and testicles on the victim’s back, telling him that they were drawing his “native pride feathers,” all the while recording the incident on a cell phone to later play for law enforcement, as “proof” that the victim consented to their acts.

                       

The prosecution of these defendants was the result of a cooperative effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the San Juan, N.M., County District Attorney’s Office. This case was investigated by the Albuquerque Division of the FBI in cooperation with the Farmington Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Ortega for the District of New Mexico and Special Litigation Counsel Gerard Hogan and Trial Attorney Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division.

 
Three Tennessee Men Plead Guilty to Launching Mortar-Style Fireworks at African-Americans

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – James Smiley, 27, Colton Partin, 21, and Kyle Montgomery, 21, all of Chattanooga, Tenn., pleaded guilty Jan. 6 in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga for launching fireworks at African-Americans who were congregated outside their apartment building.  

 

In the early morning hours of July 9, 2011, at least four African-American residents of East Lake Courts Public Housing Authority in Chattanooga were on the porch of one of the units. As they conversed, Smiley, Partin and Montgomery drove by several times yelling racial slurs and launched mortar-type fireworks, from a cylinder, directly toward these individuals. The individuals on the porch dove and scattered to avoid the explosions, one of which was captured on video by the Chattanooga Housing Authority. Another explosion shattered a window pane in an apartment of an African-American resident of the East Lake Courts. This individual was asleep inside with her infant child and her boyfriend's adolescent siblings.

 

Based on a 911 call, the Chattanooga Police Department swiftly apprehended and arrested Smiley, Partin and Montgomery. Fireworks, like the ones fired at the individuals on the porch, were photographed and observed in the bed of the truck. Smiley, Partin and Montgomery admitted their involvement to the officers. They have further admitted that the explosives were fired toward the individuals in order to intimidate them because they were African-American.

 

"Hate crimes victimize not only individuals but entire communities," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Department of Justice is committed to protecting our communities from attempted violence and intimidation motivated by bigotry and prejudice, and ensuring that justice is served."  

 

U.S. Attorney Bill Killian stated, "On behalf of the federal law enforcement community, and in conjunction with state and local law enforcement agencies and the district attorney general, we want the public to know that violations of the civil rights of all persons will not be tolerated.   We will aggressively address and prosecute civil rights matters, regardless of the source or nature of the circumstances, or the race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other classification of the victims."

 

Each faces 10 years in federal prison as well as a $250,000 fine, three years supervised release and a $100 special assessment.  Sentencing hearings were set for April 12, 2012, in U.S. District Court, Chattanooga, before the Honorable Curtis L. Collier, Chief U.S. District Court Judge.

 

Investigative agencies involved in the investigation of this case included the Chattanooga Police Department, Chattanooga Housing Authority Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Poole and Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Myesha Braden represented the United States.

 
Justice Department Settles Allegations of Citizenship Status Discrimination and Retaliation Against Georgia Rug Manufacturer

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced a settlement on Dec. 20 with Garland Sales Inc., a Georgia rug manufacturer, resolving allegations that it engaged in discrimination by imposing unnecessary documentary requirements on individuals of Hispanic origin when establishing their eligibility to work in the United States, and that it retaliated against a worker for protesting his discriminatory treatment.   According to the settlement, Garland has agreed to pay $10,000 in back pay and civil penalties, and to undergo training on proper employment eligibility verification practices.  

 

In its complaint, the department alleged that the charging party, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Hispanic descent, applied for a job with Garland in May 2009.   At the time of hire, he presented his unexpired driver’s license and an unrestricted Social Security card—a combination of documents sufficient to prove his identity and his authorization to work in the United States. The complaint alleged that Garland demanded that the he provide his “green card,” even though U.S. citizens do not have green cards.   After Garland made further requests for documents, the worker objected to the company’s demands, and Garland then rescinded the job offer.   The worker, along with another individual who was denied employment with Garland when the company rejected the individual’s valid documentation, will receive full back pay out of the $10,000 settlement.

 

The department’s complaint also alleged that Garland required newly hired non-U.S. citizens and foreign-born U.S. citizens to present specific and additional work authorization documents beyond those required by federal law.   The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires employers to treat all authorized workers in the same manner during the hiring process, regardless of their national origin or citizenship status.

 

“Employers may not treat authorized workers differently during the hiring process based on their national origin or citizenship status,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “It is also illegal when employers take action against workers for asserting their federally protected rights, and that type of behavior will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted.”

 

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, which protects work authorized individuals from employment discrimination on the basis of citizenship status or national origin discrimination, including discrimination in hiring and the employment eligibility verification (Form I-9) process.  For more information about protections against employment discrimination under the immigration law, call 1-800-255-7688 (OSC’s worker hotline) (1-800-237-2525, TDD for hearing impaired), 1-800-255-8255 (OSC’s employer hotline) (1-800-362-2735, TDD for hearing impaired), or 202-616-5594; emailosccrt@usdoj.gov, or visit OSC’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc .

 
Justice Department Resolves Citizenship Status Discrimination Charge Against Pennsylvania Employer Sernak Farms

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced on Dec. 13 that it has reached a settlement agreement with S.W.J.J. Inc., or Sernak Farms, based in Weatherly, Penn., to settle allegations that Sernak engaged in discrimination on the basis of citizenship status by preferring to hire temporary visa holders over U.S. citizen applicants and adversely treating its U.S. citizen employees. The underlying charge was filed by Philadelphia Legal Assistance on behalf of eight U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico.

 

The Department of Justice investigation indicated that Sernak hired three foreign national workers under the H2-A visa program without considering hiring three of the eight U.S. citizens because of the belief that H2-A visa holders are more diligent than U.S. workers.   Of the five U.S. citizens it did hire, the department’s investigation suggested that Sernak treated them differently than Sernak’s foreign national employees in their terms and conditions of employment, and then dismissed them because of their citizenship status.  The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) generally prohibits employers from hiring or terminating employees because of their citizenship status.

 

Under the terms of the settlement, Sernak has agreed to pay $30,000 in back pay to the eight injured parties, who are U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico.  Sernak has also agreed to provide its employees training on the anti-discrimination requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), adopt nondiscrimination policies with respect to recruitment and hiring, and maintain and submit records to the Department of Justice for the three-year term of the agreement.

 

“ All workers who are authorized to work in the United States have the right to look for a job without encountering discrimination because of their immigration status or national origin,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   “We are glad to have reached a settlement with Sernak and we look forward to continuing our work with public and private employers to educate them about anti-discrimination protections and employer obligations under the law.”

 

The Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, which prohibits employers from discriminating against work-authorized individuals on the basis of citizenship status or national origin in hiring, firing, recruitment or referral for a fee.   Attorneys Richard Crespo and A. Baltazar Baca represented OSC in this matter.

 

For more information about protections against employment discrimination under federal immigration law, call OSC’s worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688 (1-800-237-2525, TDD for hearing impaired), OSC’s employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155 (1-800-362-2735, TDD for hearing impaired), or 202-616-5594; email osccrt@usdoj.gov ; or visit the website at www.justice/gov/crt/osc .

 
Arkansas Man Pleads Guilty to Civil Rights Offenses for Involvement in the Firebombing of Interracial Couple's Home

WASHINGTON - Gary Dodson, 32, of Waldron, Ark., pleaded guilty Dec. 7 in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, Ark., to one count of civil rights conspiracy, one count of interference with housing rights due to race and one count of possession of an unregistered firearm/destructive device for his involvement in the Jan. 14, 2011, racially motivated firebombing of the home of an interracial couple in Hardy, Ark.

 

Dodson, along with Jason Barnwell, 37, of Evening Shade, Ark.; Jake Murphy, 19, of Waldron; Dustin Hammond, 20, of Hardy, Ark.; and Wendy Treybig, 31, of Evening Shade, were indicted in April by a federal grand jury on civil rights charges and other federal charges stemming from their participation in the racially motivated firebombing and their attempts to obstruct a federal investigation.

 

During the plea proceedings, Dodson admitted that on the night of Jan. 14, 2011, while at a party at Barnwell’s house in Evening Shade, he, Murphy, Hammond and Barnwell devised a plan to firebomb the victims’ house. Dodson then drove all four men from Barnwell’s residence to the victims’ house in Hardy. When they arrived, Barnwell, Murphy and Hammond constructed three Molotov cocktails and threw them at the house. They damaged the victims’ house, however, the victims were not injured.

 

“The victims’ home was attacked and their safety threatened because of their race. Such violence and intimidation has no place in our society,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute individuals who commit such atrocious acts of hate.”

 

“Today’s plea begins the final chapter in a terrible story begun less than a year ago on the night of Jan. 14, 2011, in a small Northeast Arkansas community,” said Christopher R. Thyer, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.  “Racially motivated violence, more than any other type, tears at the very fabric of what makes America and Arkansas great.  We should be celebrating our diversity rather than committing acts of violence because of it.  When it occurs, my office will vigorously prosecute it.”

 

Dodson faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Sentencing has been set for April 6, 2012. Barnwell, Murphy, Hammond and Treybig have already pleaded guilty for their involvement in this matter.

 

This case was investigated by the Little Rock Office of the FBI and the Little Rock Office of the  Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, with assistance from the Arkansas State Police, the Hardy and Waldron Police Departments, and the Scott and Sharp County Sheriff’s Offices.   It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White of the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Trial Attorneys Cindy Chung and Henry Leventis of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

 
Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Immigration-Related Employment Discrimination by University of California, San Diego Medical Center

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced on Dec. 6 the filing of a lawsuit against the University of California, San Diego Medical Center, alleging that the medical center discriminated in the employment eligibility verification process against people who are authorized to work in the United States. 

 

The department’s independent investigation revealed that the medical center engaged in a pattern or practice of subjecting newly hired non-U.S. citizens to excessive demands for documents issued by the Department of Homeland Security in order to verify and re-verify their employment eligibility, but did not require U.S. citizens to show any specific documentation.  The Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) anti-discrimination provision prohibits employers from placing additional documentary burdens on work-authorized employees during the hiring and employment eligibility verification process based on their citizenship status or national origin. 

 

“All workers who are authorized to work in the United States have the right to work without encountering discrimination because of their immigration status or national origin,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are committed to vigorously protecting authorized workers from discrimination in the hiring process and ensuring that employers uphold their obligations under the law.” 

 

The complaint seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the respondent, monetary damages for any individuals harmed by the respondent’s actions, and civil penalties. 

 

The Civil Rights Division’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, which protects work-authorized individuals against discrimination in hiring, firing and recruitment or referral for a fee on the basis of citizenship status and national origin.   The INA also protects all work-authorized individuals from discrimination in the employment eligibility verification process and from retaliation.

 

The United States is represented in this matter by Luz V. Lopez-Ortiz and Ronald Lee, OSC Trial Attorneys.

 

For more information about protections against employment discrimination under federal immigration law, call OSC’s worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688 (1-800-237-2515, TDD for hearing impaired), OSC’s employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155 (1-800-237-2515, TDD for hearing impaired), or 202-616-5594; e-mail osccrt@usdoj.gov; or visit OSC’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc

 
Fair Housing Lawsuit Filed Against the University of Nebraska at Kearney for Discrimination Against Students with Psychological and Emotional Disabilities

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Nov. 23 filed a lawsuit against the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska and employees of UNK for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against students with disabilities.

 

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Nebraska, charges that UNK and its employees engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act or denied rights protected by the act by denying reasonable accommodation requests by students with psychological or emotional disabilities seeking to live with emotional assistance animals in university housing. The suit also charges that UNK requires students with psychological disabilities to disclose sensitive medical and other information that is unnecessary to evaluate their accommodation requests.   This lawsuit arose as a result of a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by a student enrolled at UNK who sought to live with an emotional assistance dog that had been prescribed.  

 

 “The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to give reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities so that all have equal housing opportunities. The Fair Housing Act also ensures that when people seek an accommodation, they are not required to disclose medical information that is overly intrusive and invasive in order to receive an accommodation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws that protect the rights of people with psychological or emotional disabilities so that they will have full opportunity to find housing as the law requires.”

  

The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions, and a civil penalty.  Any individuals who have information relevant to this case are urged to contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743, ext. 92.

 

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt .  Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov , or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

 
Fair Housing Lawsuit Filed Against California Municipality for Discriminating Against Families with Children

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Nov. 21 against a California municipality and a homeowners’ association for discriminating against families with children in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

 

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that the city of Santa Rosa, a California municipality, and La Esplanada Unit 1 Owners’ Association, a homeowners’ association, sought to restrict residency at a condominium complex to seniors aged 55 and older. While the law allows such an exemption, the suit alleges that neither the city nor the homeowners’ association took the necessary steps, such as routine age-verification procedures, to qualify for the exemption in a way that was consistent with the Fair Housing Act. Consequently, their actions unlawfully denied and made housing unavailable to families with children. The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions and a civil penalty. 

 

“It is critical that families with children have opportunities to find housing. A housing developer or a municipality cannot deny housing to families with children and restrict its housing to seniors 55 years and older unless they comply with the requirements set forth in the Fair Housing Act,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce fair housing laws that protect the rights of families with children.”

 

This lawsuit arose as a result of a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the owner and representative of a portion of the condominium development that was the subject of the defendants’ enforcement actions.  After HUD investigated the complaint, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department.

 

“When Congress made it illegal to discriminate against families with children in housing, it carved out an exemption for senior communities, setting clear standards those communities must meet if they wish to exclude families with children,” said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD and the Department of Justice remain committed to ensuring that no community unlawfully denies families with children much-needed housing opportunities.” 

 

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt .  Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov , or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

 
Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Racial and Familial Status Discrimination in Apartment Complexes in Massillon, Ohio

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the owners of Yorkshire Apartments, Thackeray Ledges and Wales Ridge Apartments in Massillon, Ohio, for discriminating on the basis of race and familial status when renting their apartments in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

 

“No one should be denied housing nor treated differently because of their race when they are trying to find a home for their family,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will vigorously enforce the nation’s civil rights laws to combat housing discrimination.”

 

“Few things are more fundamental to success and happiness than where we choose to live.   Fair and equal access to housing is a cornerstone of our society,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.   “Apartment owners and managers must treat all tenants, and potential tenants, in a fair and equitable manner without regard to race, national origin or whether they have children.   The U.S. Attorney’s Office will actively pursue these cases with the goal of fairness and equity for all.”

 

The complaint, filed on Oct. 31, alleges that the defendants and their agents have denied apartments to African-American prospective tenants, misrepresented the availability of units to African-American prospective tenants, and have treated similarly situated African-American and white tenants and prospective tenants differently at three apartment complexes, which are owned and managed by John Ruth doing business as Penson Properties.  The complaint also alleges that the defendants have discriminated against families with children, including denying families with children the opportunity to rent upper-level apartments and restricting families with children to basement-level apartments.  

 

The United States’ complaint seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, and requesting both monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions, and a civil penalty.

 

Several former property managers and tenants previously complained to the Stark County, Ohio, Fair Housing Department that they had been discriminated against by the defendants, and their complaints were referred to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) for investigation.   Following OCRC’s investigation, OCRC, several individual tenants and former property managers, as well as Stark County filed suit against the defendants.   That lawsuit is currently pending in the Northern District of Ohio before the U.S. Judge John R. Adams.

 

Fighting illegal discrimination in housing is a top priority of the Justice Department.   The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.   More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt.   Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

 

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.

 
Justice Department Announces Agreement with Lorain County, Ohio, on Protecting the Rights of Spanish-Speaking Puerto Rican Voters

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced a settlement on Oct. 7 with Lorain County, Ohio, to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican voters under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act.  Today’s agreement is intended to resolve concerns that limited-English proficient Puerto Rican voters were being denied their full voting rights because the county failed to provide language assistance as required by law.

 

The county has agreed that, starting with the Nov. 8, 2011, election, it will provide county-wide bilingual ballots on the voting machines at the polls, as well as bilingual poll workers in targeted precincts.  The agreement includes additional steps that the county will take to achieve full compliance with Section 4(e) by the first election held in 2012. 

 

The parties have also agreed to seek a federal court order authorizing federal observers to monitor Election Day activities in polling places in Lorain County and to create a community-based Spanish-language advisory committee, which will include participation and feedback from the local Puerto Rican community.    

 

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Today’s agreement will ensure that Spanish-speaking voters have equal access to the ballot box and receive critical language assistance as the law requires so their votes will count.  I greatly appreciate the cooperation of county officials in working closely with us to reach this resolution.” 

 

“The citizens of Lorain County should be proud of their Board of Elections.  Quietly, competently and collaboratively, they’ve protected the interests of Lorain County citizens,” said Steve Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.  “Protecting the rights of all our citizens is at the core of our democracy and the core of the United States Attorney’s Office’s mission.”

 

Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act requires that jurisdictions with significant Puerto Rican populations cannot deny an individual’s voting rights based on their ability to read, write, understand or interpret any election matter in English.  The 2000 Census found more than 13,000 Puerto Ricans resided in Lorain County , and that 32.5 percent of the county’s voting-age Puerto Ricans were limited-English proficient.  Recently-issued 2010 Census data found that there are now more than 17,000 Puerto Ricans in Lorain County, and that the county’s Puerto Rican population has increased by nearly 60 percent since 1990.   

 

To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, voters may call the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.  More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting rights laws is available on the Justice Department website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting/index.php.

 
Justice Department Reaches Settlement with C&F Mortgage Corporation to Resolve Allegations of Lending Discrimination
Settlement Provides Compensation to African-American and Hispanic Borrowers of Home Mortgage Loans

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that C&F Mortgage Corporation of Midlothian, Va., will revise its pricing policies, conduct employee training and pay $140,000 as part of a settlement to resolve allegations that it engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin.

 

The settlement, which is subject to court approval, was filed in conjunction with the Justice Department’s complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.   The complaint alleges that C&F charged greater interest rate markups (overages) and gave lesser discounts (underages) on home mortgage loans made to African-American and Hispanic borrowers, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).

 

“Fair and equal access to credit is critical and lenders have a responsibility to have protocols in place that ensure all of their lending programs comply with the law and don’t discriminate,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “The Civil Rights Division is committed to fair lending enforcement that stops abuses across the entire spectrum of credit markets and to compensating the victims of discriminatory lending.    We commend C&F for working cooperatively with the Justice Department in reaching an appropriate resolution of this case.”

 

“Racial and ethnic bias have no place in the lending market,” said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We are pleased that C&F is taking steps to compensate the victims and to ensure fair and equal access to credit in the future.”

 

“The FDIC is committed to ensuring its supervised banks and their subsidiaries comply with fair lending laws,” said Mark Pearce, Director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) Division of Depositor and Consumer Protection. “Banks must effectively monitor their subsidiaries to avoid allowing impermissible discrimination to occur. We appreciate the Department of Justice’s efforts to investigate and resolve this matter.” 

 

According to court documents, in 2007, C&F used rate sheets to calculate a “par” or standard interest rate for each borrower based on objective factors related to the borrower’s credit risk and the loan terms; however, C&F then gave its employees wide discretion to charge borrowers more (overages) or less (underages) than the par rate without having in place objective criteria for setting the overages and underages.   Prior to 2010, C&F also did not require employees to document the reasons for charging overages or providing underages to borrowers, did not monitor whether these overages and underages resulted in discrimination based on race or national origin, and did not offer detailed fair lending training to its employees. The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that this policy had a disparate impact on African-American and Hispanic borrowers.  

 

The department alleged that in 2010, C&F began to develop uniform policies for all aspects of its loan pricing and to phase out the practice of charging overages to home mortgage borrowers.  As part of this settlement, C&F revised these and other pricing policies further to ensure that the interest rates charged for its home mortgage loans are set in a non-discriminatory manner consistent with the requirements of the FHA and the ECOA.   The settlement also requires the lender to pay $140,000 to African-American and Hispanic victims of discrimination, monitor its loans for potential disparities based on race and national origin, and provide equal credit opportunity training to its employees.   The agreement also prohibits the lender from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin in any aspect of a credit transaction.  

 

The lawsuit originated from a referral by the FDIC to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  

 

The Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, and the FDIC are members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.   President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.   The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.   The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.   For more information on the task force, visit www.StopFraud.gov.

 

A copy of the complaint, as well as additional information about fair lending enforcement by the Justice Department, can be obtained from the Justice Department’s website at www.justice.gov/fairhousing.

 
Justice Department Charges South Carolina Landlord with Discrimination Against Families with Children

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Sept. 21 against a Charleston, S.C.-area landlord for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against families with children.

 

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, charges that John Wingard Altman, through published advertisements and statements to testers, maintains a policy or practice of discouraging families with children from living in the apartment complex he owns, located at 1211 Central Avenue, in Summerville, S.C.   The allegations are based on evidence generated by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program, in which individuals pose as renters to gather information about possible discriminatory practices.

 

“Housing discrimination against families with children has been illegal for more than 20 years, but it remains a persistent problem,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   “The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws that protect the rights of families with children.”

 

“Housing is one of those fundamental needs and we simply will not tolerate unlawful discrimination in any form,” said William M. Nettles, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina.

 

The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendant, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendant’s actions and a civil penalty.

 

Individuals who may have information related to this lawsuit should contact the Justice Department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox number 9998, or e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov .   The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt .

 

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct.  The allegations must still be proven in federal court.

 
Washington Man Sentenced for Racially Motivated Hate Crime

TACOMA, Wash. - The Justice Department announced on Sept. 2 that Zachary Beck was sentenced to 51 months in prison for civil rights crimes related to his participation in a racially-motivated attack on an African-American man in Vancouver, Wash., in January 2010.   Beck was also sentenced to three years supervised release.   The sentencing took place in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

 

According to court documents, Beck and his co-conspirators, Kory Boyd and Lawrence Silk, attacked an African-American man in a Vancouver sports bar on Jan. 7, 2010, because of the man’s race.   Beck, Boyd and Silk each have associated with white supremacist organizations.   Beck ran for city council in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2003 under the Aryan Nations banner.   On Jan. 7, 2010, Beck saw an African-American man socializing with white friends in Captain’s Sports Bar in Vancouver.   Beck twice told the bartender that the man should leave or there would be trouble.   When the man did not leave, Beck met Boyd and Silk outside the bar and agreed to attack the man inside.   Beck led Boyd and Silk back into the bar and confronted the man, who was the only black man in the bar.   Beck told the man that he should have left, and then swung his fist at the man’s head.   The man successfully defended himself; however, Boyd and Silk threw bottles at the man and shouted racial epithets at him.   Directly after, Beck, Boyd and Silk left the bar shouting more racial slurs and promising to return.   The man whom they attacked followed them out of the bar and pursued them while calling 911.   The Vancouver Police apprehended Silk, and federal authorities later charged and arrested Beck and Boyd.  

 

“The Department of Justice is committed to aggressively prosecuting hate-fueled acts of violence,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “Today’s sentence makes clear that racially-motivated attacks will not be tolerated in this country.”

 

“Fortunately, the victim was not badly injured,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny A. Durkan.  “Others came to his aid and together they were able to fend off the hateful attack.  Hate crimes affect not just the victim.  They corrode communities and send a message of fear to everyone who is labeled by the same prejudices.”

 

Beck waived his right to a jury, and after a trial, federal Judge Robert J. Bryan on June 7, 2011, found Beck guilty of conspiring to violate the civil rights of an African-American man; forcefully interfering with the man’s civil rights; and trying to persuade a witness to lie about the crimes.  Silk pleaded guilty to Washington state charges of malicious harassment and received a two-year sentence.   Boyd pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime charge and was sentenced in January 2011 to 34 months in prison.

 

The case was investigated by Vancouver Police and the FBI, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Miyake and Trial Attorney Edward Caspar from Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

 
Justice Department Settles Fair Housing Lawsuit Against Mississippi Newspaper

WASHINGTON – A Gulfport, Miss., newspaper has agreed to pay $15,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department alleging that the newspaper published advertisements for housing that discriminated against families with children, the Justice Department announced on Aug. 30.

 

The Justice Department’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in December 2010. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Penny Pincher, a weekly want-ad newspaper distributed along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act or denied rights protected by the act by accepting and publishing 10 advertisements for rental housing that stated illegal preferences against families with children.

 

“Housing discrimination against families with children is a problem that newspapers must not perpetuate by publishing discriminatory advertising,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “Today’s settlement shows our commitment to enforcement of fair housing laws that protect families with children.”

 

“Protecting families with children from discrimination on the basis of familial status is one of the basic tenets of the Fair Housing Act,” said John Dowdy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.  “Our office is committed to ensuring that media outlets such as newspapers do not run ads which violate that principle.  Aggressive enforcement of the Fair Housing Act to prevent discrimination against families with children remains a priority of my office.” 

 

“Newspaper ads that discriminate against families with children are illegal and unacceptable,” said John Trasviña, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD and the Department of Justice will ensure that publications fulfill their obligation under the Fair Housing Act to reject discriminatory advertisements that limit housing opportunities for families with children.”

 

This lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed with HUD by a fair housing group and a woman with three children who was searching for housing for her family.   The woman’s search led her to Penny Pincher, in which she read an ad offering a house for rent with the proviso, “no children.”   She contacted the fair housing group, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center, which conducted testing of the property advertised and monitored the advertisements published by Penny Pincher.   After HUD investigated the complaints, it issued three charges of discrimination, and the matters were referred to the Justice Department.

 

Under the settlement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court, Penny Pincher will pay $10,000 in damages to Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center, $1,500 in damages to the individual affected by the ad and $3,500 in a civil penalty to the United States.   The settlement also requires Penny Pincher to adopt a non-discrimination policy, to provide its employees with fair housing training, and to provide periodic reports to the Justice Department.   The case continues against other defendants.

 

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt .   Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

 

Justice Department Opens Investigation into the Antelope Valley Stations of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

LOS ANGELES – The Justice Department has opened a civil investigation into allegations of discriminatory policing by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) members based in the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, Calif.  The investigation will focus on allegations that the Lancaster and Palmdale stations of the LASD are engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race or national origin in violation of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act.

 

The Justice Department will seek to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law, including the Fair Housing Act, by deputies of these LASD stations.    The investigation will focus on allegations that the LASD has sought to identify during routine traffic stops individuals who use Housing Choice Vouchers, commonly known as Section 8, to subsidize housing costs for low income families. In addition, the investigation will examine allegations that t he LASD has conducted warrantless searches of African-American families’ homes under the auspices of housing authority compliance inspections, and that housing authority investigators based in the Lancaster and Palmdale sheriff’s stations have been accompanied by sheriff’s deputies as they conduct routine housing contract compliance checks.  At times, it is alleged that the deputies approach the Section 8 recipient’s home with guns drawn and in full SWAT armor and conduct searches and questioning themselves, unrelated to the housing program.

 

In addition, the Justice Department has an ongoing investigation under the Fair Housing Act of the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, as well as of the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles, to determine whether there has been a systematic effort to discriminate against African-Americans and Latinos.

 

During the course of the investigation of the LASD, the Justice Department will consider all relevant information, particularly the efforts that LASD has undertaken to ensure compliance with federal law.    The Justice Department has taken similar steps involving a variety of state and local law enforcement agencies, both large and small, in jurisdictions such as New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and Louisiana.

 

This matter is being investigated by attorneys from the Special Litigation Section and Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.   The department welcomes any information from the community.   If you have any comments or concerns, please feel free to contact the department at 1-877-218-5228 , or via email at community.antelope@usdoj.gov.  

 
Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Pickens County, Ala., Board of Education to Eliminate Racial Disparities

WASHINGTON - The Department of Justice on Aug. 8 announced that it has entered into a settlement agreement with private plaintiffs and the Pickens County, Ala., Board of Education that requires the board to institute a series of educational reforms designed to eliminate the remaining vestiges of its formerly segregated school system.  

 

Under the terms of the agreement, the board, in collaboration with the state of Alabama, will develop policies and programs to eliminate observed racial disparities in student discipline, grade retention, graduation rates and post-graduate scholarships.  The agreement further obligates the board to intensify its efforts to recruit minority applicants for faculty and administrative positions, and to take steps to ensure that the assignment of certified and non-certified staff to district schools does not result in nor reinforce racially identifiable schools.

 

In conjunction with the parties’ agreement, the state of Alabama will establish and operate an early learning center that will provide educational services to four-year old children in Pickens County at no cost to parents.  The state has also agreed to provide substantial training and educational expertise to assist the board in executing its obligations under the agreement, as well as its desegregation obligations more broadly.

 

“Equal access to educational opportunities is a fundamental civil right. This creative and comprehensive remedial plan will enhance educational opportunities for all students and puts the Pickens County School District on a path to unitary status,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “I thank all parties for their cooperation in reaching this agreement. Importantly, the state of Alabama is willing to invest scarce resources in a school district that is demonstrably committed to fulfilling its desegregation obligations.”

 

“The citizens of our state benefit when parties come together, as here, to ensure that all children, regardless of race, have equal access to the best possible educational opportunities,” said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance of the Northern District of Alabama.

 

The enforcement of existing desegregation orders and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt .

 
Arkansas Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Hate Crime for Cross Burning

WASHINGTON –Curtis Coffee, 19, of Salado, Ark., pleaded guilty on July 25 to criminal violations of housing rights related to his role in the Aug. 28, 2010, cross burning in front of an African-American man’s apartment in Salado, the Department of Justice announced.

 

Coffee, along with co-defendants, Tony Branscum, 25, and Bradley Branscum, 23, also of Salado, were indicted in November 2010, by a federal grand jury on civil rights charges and other related federal charges stemming from their participation in the cross burning.   Tony and Bradley Branscum, who are cousins, pleaded guilty last week for their roles in the cross burning.

 

Coffee admitted in court that on the night of Aug. 28, 2010, he, along with his co-defendants, devised a plan to burn a cross in the yard of an African-American in the Salado community.   Thereafter, Tony Branscum constructed a wooden cross in a workshop behind his house.   The men then covered the cross in gasoline-soaked clothing and Brad Branscum drove them and the cross to the victim’s residence.   Upon arriving at the residence, Coffee propped up the cross on a satellite dish and ignited it.       

 

“The burning cross is an unmistakable symbol of bigotry and hate, and to use it to threaten a person with violence because of his race is intolerable in this nation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “We will continue to aggressively prosecute hate crimes of this kind.”

 

Coffee faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.       

           

 This case was investigated by the Little Rock, Ark., Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White of the Eastern District of Arkansas and Trial Attorneys Cindy Chung and Henry Leventis of the Civil Rights Division.

 
Justice Department Sues Nation’s Largest Mortgage Insurance Provider for Discrimination Against Women on Paid Maternity Leave

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced on July 5 that it has sued the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation (MGIC), the nation’s largest mortgage insurance company, and two of its underwriters, Elgina Cunningham and Kelly Kane, for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against women on paid maternity leave.  

 

The suit, filed on July 5, 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleges that MGIC required women on paid maternity leave to return to work before the company would insure their mortgages. Most mortgage lenders require applicants seeking to borrow more than 80 percent of their home’s value to obtain mortgage insurance, meaning MGIC’s denials to women on maternity leave could cost those women the opportunity to obtain a home loan.

 

“No woman should be denied the opportunity to receive a mortgage loan simply because she has just given birth,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our nation’s fair housing laws prohibit this kind of discrimination, and the Justice Department is committed to aggressive enforcement of those laws.”

 

“It defies belief that, in 2011, any institution would discriminate against a mother for legally and properly taking leave after the birth of a child,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania David Hickton.  “My office will not stand idly by while parents suffer discrimination in lending simply for taking maternity or paternity leave.”

 

This lawsuit arose as a result of a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by a Wexford, Penn., loan applicant. After investigating the complaint, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and referred the case to the Department of Justice after the complainant elected to have the case heard in federal court. The suit alleges that the defendants’ conduct constitutes discrimination based on sex and familial status, and seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions and a civil penalty.

 

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing and mortgage lending based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing or lending discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

 
Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Colorado State Courts to Remove Language Barriers

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department announced on June 29 that it had reached an agreement with officials of the Colorado Judicial Department to ensure that limited English proficient (LEP) individuals seeking services throughout Colorado’s state court system will have access to timely and competent language assistance.

 

The agreement resolves a Justice Department investigation of a complaint alleging that the Colorado Judicial Department, which receives federal funding, was not in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the nondiscrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. These two acts prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or religion by recipients of federal assistance.  

 

“Justice cannot be served without access and effective communication. This agreement shows that, even in tough economic times, this core principle can and must be attained,” Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “I thank Chief Justice Michael L. Bender, State Court Administrator Gerald Marroney and their staff for working cooperatively with the Justice Department to bring down barriers to justice.”

 

As part of the agreement with the Justice Department, Colorado’s chief justice has issued a comprehensive directive that provides for free and competent interpreter services in all criminal and civil proceedings, as well as court operations. Colorado state court officials consulted with judges, administrators, and community experts to shape a directive that is an example for all courts subject to civil rights laws that require meaningful access to court proceedings and other court operations, at no charge to LEP individuals .

 

In addition, the Colorado Judicial Department, in consultation with the department, will develop state and local language access plans addressing both oral interpretation and the translation of vital written documents.  An existing Court Interpreter Oversight Committee will be expanded to include a Colorado Legal Services attorney, a prosecutor, a public defender, an advocate representing the interests of the language minority populations in Colorado and other members, all of whom shall have relevant experience in court language access issues. This committee will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the directive, the state and district plans, and implementation efforts.    

 

Under the terms of the agreement signed today, the Justice Department will monitor Colorado’s compliance for a period of at least three years.

 

On Aug. 17, 2010, Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, issued a letter to chief justices and administrators of state court clarifying the obligation of courts that receive federal financial assistance to provide oral interpretation, written translation and other language services to people who are LEP. The letter provided state courts additional guidance regarding the longstanding requirement to provide meaningful access, free of charge, to their programs and services for LEP persons through the provision of language services, pursuant to the prohibition against national origin discrimination contained in Title VI and the Safe Streets Act.   . 

 

The Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section investigated this matter as part of its Courts Language Access Initiative. This multi-pronged initiative focuses on enforcement, technical assistance, outreach, resource identification and policy efforts to ensure meaningful access to courts receiving federal financial assistance.    

 

For more information about Title VI and the Safe Streets Act, or to obtain copies of the Assistant Attorney General’s letter, visit www.lep.gov

 
Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Immigration-Related Employment Discrimination by Farmland Foods Inc. in Missouri

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on June 27 filed a lawsuit against Farmland Foods Inc., a major producer of pork products in the United States, alleging that it engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination by imposing unnecessary documentary requirements on non-U.S. citizens when establishing their authority to work in the United States. Farmland Foods, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., is headquartered in Kansas City, Mo.

 

The department’s investigation revealed that Farmland required all newly hired non-U.S. citizens and some foreign-born U.S. citizens at its Monmouth plant in Illinois to present specific and, in some cases, extra work authorization documents beyond those required by federal law.  The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires employers to treat all authorized workers in the same manner during the hiring process, regardless of their citizenship status.  Farmland imposed different and greater requirements on non-U.S. citizens and foreign-born U.S. citizens as compared to applicants who were native-born U.S. citizens.

            

“Employers may not treat authorized workers differently during the hiring process based on their citizenship status,” said Thomas E. Perez, the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division.  “Federal law prohibits discrimination in the employment eligibility verification process, and the Justice Department is committed to enforcing the law.”

 

The lawsuit charging Farmland with discriminatory practices has been filed before the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) within the Executive Office for Immigration Review, another component of the Department of Justice.

 

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, which protects work authorized individuals from employment discrimination on the basis of citizenship status or national origin discrimination, including discrimination in hiring and the employment eligibility verification (Form I-9) process.  For more information about protections against employment discrimination under the immigration law, call 1-800-255-7688 (OSC’s worker hotline) (1-800-237-2525, TDD for hearing impaired), 1-800-255-8255 (OSC’s employer hotline) (1-800-362-2735, TDD for hearing impaired), or 202-616-5594; email osccrt@usdoj.gov ; or visit OSC’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/osc .

 
Justice Department Moves to Intervene in Texas Case to Enforce the Supreme Court’s Olmstead Decision
Announcement Comes on the 12th Anniversary of the Olmstead Decision

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on June 22 filed papers seeking to intervene in Steward, et al. v. Perry, et al., a case filed on behalf of thousands of Texans with developmental disabilities to enforce their right under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to receive services provided by the state in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.

 

The proposed complaint by the United States, which must first be approved for filing by the U.S. District Court in San Antonio alleges that Texas unnecessarily segregates individuals with developmental disabilities in nursing homes instead of providing them the opportunity to receive integrated, community-based services. The proposed complaint also alleges that Texas places individuals with developmental disabilities who currently live in the community at risk of unnecessary placement in nursing facilities by failing to provide necessary community-based services in violation of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.   

 

“Individuals with disabilities have a right to access appropriate community-based services, and the administration is committed to helping them do so,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “For the Department of Justice, this suit presents an opportunity to turn the promise of the Olmstead decision into a reality for individuals with developmental disabilities confined to nursing facilities in Texas.”

 

The Justice Department’s filing in Texas comes on the 12th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., which held that the ADA requires public entities to provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when such services are appropriate; the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment; and community-based services can be reasonably accommodated.    The filing is part of the department’s continuing effort to enforce civil rights laws that require states to ensure that individuals with disabilities are served in the most integrated setting appropriate to meet their needs.  The Justice Department has intervened, brought suit, or filed amicus briefs in support of Olmstead enforcement in 17 different states over the past two years.   

 

 The ADA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination by public entities. People interested in finding out more about the ADA can call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 or 1-800-514-0383 (TTY), or access its ADA website on Olmstead at www.ada.gov/olmstead , where all relevant information can be found.

 
Justice Department Files Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against Waupaca County, Wisconsin

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on June 20 announced it has filed a lawsuit alleging that Waupaca County, Wis., discriminated against Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department patrol officer Julie Ann Thobaben because of her gender when it failed to promote her.   The suit was filed in federal district court in Wisconsin.

Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals based on their race, color, gender, national origin or religion when making employment-related decisions, including decisions about whether to promote, hire or fire someone.

Thobaben is a well-regarded, 16-year veteran of the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department.   The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that in March 2006, Waupaca County unlawfully discriminated against Thobaben when it failed to promote her from patrol officer to detective sergeant because she is a woman.   According to the complaint, Waupaca County managers conceded that Thobaben was the most qualified candidate for the promotion.   Despite her superior qualifications, the county claimed it could not promote Thobaben because Thobaben’s husband works as a patrol officer at the sheriff’s department, and promoting Thobaben would violate the county’s nepotism policy.   Although the policy prohibits employees from supervising their relatives, the complaint alleges that the county has ignored this policy on at least 10 other occasions when it permitted males to supervise their family members.   Also, months after denying Thobaben the promotion, Waupaca County took the position, in a labor dispute, that detective sergeants do not supervise patrol officers.

“Gender discrimination in employment will not be tolerated,” said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This lawsuit should send a clear message that the department will take necessary action to eliminate and remedy the effects of gender discrimination in our public sector workplaces.”

The case stems from a referral by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission following that agency’s investigation.   The case will be handled by the Civil Rights Division in cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Additional information about Title VII can be found on the Justice Department website, www.justice.gov/crt/emp , as well as on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website at www.eeoc.gov

Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Nixon State Bank to Resolve Allegations of Lending Discrimination
Settlement Provides Compensation to Hispanic Borrowers of Unsecured Consumer Loans

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced on June 16 that Nixon State Bank of Nixon, Texas, will establish uniform pricing policies, conduct employee training, and pay nearly $100,000 as part of a settlement to resolve allegations that it engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of national origin.

 

The settlement, which is subject to court approval, was filed in conjunction with the Justice Department’s complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.   The complaint alleges that Nixon charged higher prices on unsecured consumer loans made to His panic borrowers through the bank’s branch offices in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).

 

“Fair and equal access to credit is critical and lenders have a responsibility to have protocols in place that ensure all of their lending programs comply with the law and don’t discriminate,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “The Civil Rights Division is committed to fair lending enforcement that stops abuses across the entire spectrum of credit markets.   We are pleased that this settlement will compensate the victims of this discriminatory conduct and we commend Nixon for working cooperatively with the Justice Department in reaching an appropriate resolution of this case.”

 

“Any form of discrimination is intolerable, including in the lending of money,” stated U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy.  “The rates consumers pay for credit should be based solely upon factors directly related to their creditworthiness without any reference to their race or ethnicity.”

 

“The FDIC is committed to ensuring its supervised banks comply with fair lending laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act,” said Mark Pearce, Director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) Division of Depositor and Consumer Protection.  “This particular matter highlights the dangers of discretionary pricing in loan products.  We appreciate the collaboration with the Department of Justice to address this matter.”      

 

Prior to mid-2009, Nixon did not have a written loan pricing guideline for its unsecured consumer loans.   Instead, the bank’s loan officers were granted broad discretion in handling all aspects of the unsecured consumer loan transaction.   The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that this policy had a disparate impact on Hispanic borrowers.  

 

Nixon began to develop uniform pricing policies in late 2009, which included implementation of a uniform rate matrix to price unsecured consumer loans.   As part of the settlement, Nixon will further revise these and other pricing policies to ensure that the price charged for its loans is set in a non-discriminatory manner consistent with the requirements of ECOA.   The settlement also requires the bank to pay nearly $100,000 to Hispanic victims of discrimination, monitor its loans for potential disparities based on national origin, and provide equal credit opportunity training to its employees.   The agreement also prohibits the bank from discriminating on the basis of national origin in any aspect of a credit transaction.  

 

The lawsuit originated from a 2010 referral by the FDIC to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   Nixon is a member of the FDIC.  

 

The Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, and the FDIC are members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.   The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.   The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.   For more information on the task force, visit www.StopFraud.gov .

 

A copy of the complaint, as well as additional information about fair lending enforcement by the Justice Department, can be obtained from the Justice Department’s website at www.justice.gov/fairhousing .

 
Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Midwest BankCentre Regarding Alleged Lending Discrimination in St. Louis
Settlement Provides $1.45 Million to Ensure Equal Lending Services to African-American Community

WASHINGTON –Midwest BankCentre will open a full-service branch in an African-American neighborhood and invest approximately $1.45 million in majority African-American areas of the St. Louis metropolitan area as part of a settlement to resolve allegations that they engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race and color, the Justice Department announced on June 16.

 

The settlement, which remains subject to court approval, was filed in conjunction with the department’s complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.   The complaint alleges that Midwest BankCentre violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibit financial institutions from discriminating on the basis of race and color in their mortgage lending practices.   The lawsuit alleges that Midwest BankCentre has served the credit needs of the residents of predominantly white neighborhoods in the Missouri portion of the St. Louis metropolitan area to a significantly greater extent than they have served the credit needs of majority African-American neighborhoods.   Those neighborhoods are in and to the north and west of the city of St. Louis.   They are easily recognized because t he Missouri portion of the St. Louis metropolitan area has long had highly-segregated residential housing patterns, especially for African-Americans.  

 

“Lending discrimination deprives communities of access to credit and leaves the residents of minority neighborhoods vulnerable to predatory lenders.   This type of discrimination is part of the web of intolerable practices that stripped vast amounts of wealth from communities of color in the last decade,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are pleased that Midwest BankCentre has begun  working with community groups and agreed to invest and take creative steps to build credit in an area that has been long been neglected by the banking community.”

 

“Racial or other illegal discrimination has no place in our credit markets,” said Federal Reserve Board Governor Elizabeth A. Duke.   “We are pleased that this settlement is designed to expand fair access to credit.”

 

Under the settlement, Midwest BankCentre will invest $900,000 in a special financing program to increase the amount of credit the bank extends to majority African-American areas in the Missouri portion of the St. Louis metropolitan area, spend $300,000 for consumer education and credit repair programs, and spend $250,000 for outreach to potential customers and promotion of their products and services.   Midwest BankCentre will also open a full-service branch in a majority African-American area within the Missouri portion of the St. Louis metropolitan area and conduct fair lending training for its employees.  The agreement also prohibits Midwest BankCentre from discriminating on the basis of race or color in any aspect of a residential real estate-related or credit transaction.  

 

The lawsuit originated from information gathered by the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunities Council and provided to the Department of Justice in 2009, as well as a 2010 referral by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. As part of the settlement, Midwest will pay $25,000 to compensate the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council for the resources that it diverted to this matter.   Midwest BankCenter is a member of the Federal Reserve System.  

 

The Civil Rights Division and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System are members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.   The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.   The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.  For more information on the task force, visit www.StopFraud.gov .

 

A copy of the complaint, as well as additional information about fair lending enforcement by the Justice Department, can be obtained from the Justice Department’s website at www.justice.gov/fairhousing .

 
Justice Department Reaches Americans with Disabilities Act Settlement with Wells Fargo
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced on May 31 a comprehensive settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with Wells Fargo & Company to ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities to Wells Fargo’s services nationwide, including its nearly 10,000 retail banking, brokerage and mortgage stores, over 12,000 ATMs, and its telephone and website services.

The agreement resolves numerous ADA complaints filed by individuals who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have speech disabilities who allege that Wells Fargo would not do business with them over the phone using a telecommunications relay service. Instead, the individuals were directed to call a TTY/TDD line that asked them to leave a message, which went unanswered. Wells Fargo started addressing these customers’ concerns before the Justice Department investigation began. Once the department opened an investigation, Wells Fargo worked cooperatively to achieve a comprehensive settlement addressing all ADA issues in its retail banking and financial services.

“Individuals who have disabilities must not be denied equal access to the services offered by financial institutions simply because of their disability. Wells Fargo has shown that it is committed to equal access and effective communication with its customers who have disabilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The department is aware that other major financial institutions are refusing to communicate with individuals with disabilities who use relay services to communicate by telephone. These refusals are discrimination, and other financial institutions must follow Wells Fargo’s example and accept relay calls immediately.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to working with the Civil Rights Division to help ensure that businesses in this district fully comply with the ADA,” said Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, which is where Wells Fargo is headquartered.

Wells Fargo will pay up to $16 million to compensate individuals harmed by certain violations of Title III of the ADA. The department will be administering a claims process to distribute these funds. Individuals who believe they were harmed by Wells Fargo’s failure to comply with ADA requirements may get information about filing a claim by sending an email to wfclaims@usdoj.gov or by calling 1-866-708-1273 (voice) or 1-866-544-5309 (TTY). Information on the claims process is also available on the ADA home page at www.ada.gov .

Wells Fargo will also pay a $55,000 civil penalty to the United States. In addition, Wells Fargo affirms its commitment to advancing the interests of individuals with disabilities by paying a total of $1 million in charitable donations to non-profit organizations that will assist veterans with disabilities resulting from injuries sustained while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to live independently in the community.

Finally, the agreement requires Wells Fargo to take the following steps to improve access for customers with disabilities:

  • Remove physical barriers to access, as required, at its retail stores across the nation and remedy all other instances of discrimination under Title III of the ADA that are identified during the claims process.
  • Provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, computer-assisted real time transcription, qualified readers and documents in Braille, large print, and other alternate formats to persons with disabilities when necessary to ensure effective communication throughout its financial services and programs.
  • Adopt and enforce a policy on effective communication with individuals who are deaf, are hard of hearing, are blind or have low vision for all Wells Fargo retail stores and financial services nationwide, post a summary of the policy on its website and distribute the policy to current and new employees and contractors.
  • Accept calls made through a relay service operator by customers who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have speech disabilities on an equivalent basis to calls from other customers. This includes eliminating special security provisions applied to relay calls and using the same caller verification procedures whether or not a customer uses a relay service.
  • Maintain staffing of phone lines dedicated to TTYs / TDDs, wherever provided, on a basis equivalent to telephone lines that are not dedicated to TTYs / TDDs.
  • Ensure that its ATMs and websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  • Establish a toll-free ADA comment/complaint line so customers with disabilities have an easy avenue for alerting Wells Fargo to concerns about disability-related problems accessing goods, services and facilities.
  • Hire a full-time national ADA coordinator to coordinate Wells Fargo’s efforts to comply with its responsibilities under the ADA and this agreement, including the investigation of ADA complaints received on its ADA comment/complaint line.
  • Provide staff training on the ADA and Wells Fargo’s obligations to provide effective communication to individuals with disabilities.
  • Post and maintain in a conspicuous location in all Wells Fargo banking stores a notice stating that individuals with disabilities have a right under the ADA to request a sign language or oral interpreter or other auxiliary aids or services.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by businesses that serve the public. Among other things, the ADA requires financial institutions, accountants, lawyers, doctors and other businesses to provide auxiliary aids and services that are necessary for effective communication. For individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, auxiliary aids include qualified sign language or oral interpreters, use of relay services, computer-assisted real time transcription, and, for simple communications, the exchange of written notes. For individuals who are blind or have low vision, auxiliary aids include qualified readers, assistance in filling out forms and written materials provided in alternate formats, such as Braille, large print, audio recordings or accessible electronic formats such as email or HTML.

Those interested in finding out more about this agreement or businesses’ obligations under the ADA may call the Justice Department's toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov. ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov. For the settlement and fact sheet on this announcement, please visit www.ada.gov/wells_fargo/.

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Disability-Based Housing Discrimination at Nine Apartment Complexes in Three States

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on May 19 filed a lawsuit against the owners, developers and design professionals involved in the design and construction of nine multi-family housing complexes in Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.   The nine complexes comprise more than 2,000 apartments with more than 800 ground-floor units that are required by the Fair Housing Act to contain accessible features.   Eight of the complexes contain leasing offices that are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to contain accessible features.  

 

The complaint names the Bryan Company; Bryan Construction Company Inc.; Steve Bryan; Mid-South Houston Partners; Mid-South Development LLC (aka MSD LLC); the Vineyards Apartments LLC; Equity Properties LLC (formerly known as Windsor Lake Apartment LP); Cypress Lake Development LLC; Stephen G. Hill; Pickering Firm Inc. (aka Pickering Inc.); Larry Singleton (dba Singleton Hollomon Architects); H D Lang and Associates Inc.; Richard A. Barron, Architect; Shows Dearman & Waits Inc.; Timothy R. Burge, PA (dba Professional Associates Inc.); Canizaro Cawthon Davis (formerly known as Canizaro Trigiani Architects); Smith Engineering & Surveying Inc. (aka Smith Engineering Firm Inc., aka S.E.C.O. Inc., dba Smith Engineering Co. Inc.); Evans-Graves Engineers; and J.V. Burkes & Associates Inc. as the parties responsible for violating these laws.   The complaint also names eleven current owners as necessary parties in whose absence complete relief cannot be afforded.

 

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, alleges that the nine properties are inaccessible to persons with disabilities because they, for example, lack accessible pedestrian routes; lack accessible parking; have steep cross and running slopes; have doors that are not sufficiently wide enough to allow passage by persons in wheelchairs; have insufficient accessible routes into and through the units; have light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in inaccessible locations; and/or have kitchens and bathrooms that are inaccessible to persons in wheelchairs.   Further, the complaint alleges that the leasing offices are inaccessible to persons with disabilities because, for example, they lack accessible pedestrian approach routes, lack compliant parking spaces, have inaccessible counters, and/or have inaccessible door hardware.

 

“The Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act include provisions to ensure that persons with disabilities have opportunities to find and live comfortably in multifamily housing across the nation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   “The department will continue its vigorous pursuit of equal housing opportunities for all people, including those with disabilities.”

 

“The design and construction of multi-family apartment complexes must comply with the Fair Housing laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said John M. Dowdy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. “My office remains vigilant in its efforts to eradicate discrimination and to ensure that persons with disabilities have legally accessible accommodations in which to live.  We will remain steadfast in making sure that developers, owners, architects and civil engineers design and develop apartments and other buildings which comply with these laws.”

 

The suit seeks a court order declaring that the defendants’ actions violate the Fair Housing Act and the ADA, prohibiting the defendants from engaging in future discrimination in the design and construction of multi-family housing; requiring the defendants to bring the covered multi-family dwellings, and public and common use areas into compliance with fair housing laws; and awarding monetary damages to persons harmed by the defendants’ discriminatory housing practices.

 

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.   Title III of the ADA requires, among other things, that public accommodations comply with specific requirements related to architectural standards to ensure accessible public and common use areas.   More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt.  Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777. 

 
Justice Department Settles ADA Complaint Involving Children with Autism and Other Disabilities at Preschool Program in Baldwin Park, Calif.

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on May 17 announced a settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with a state-funded private preschool program, Beginning Montessori Academy, located in Baldwin Park, Calif.    The Justice Department initiated its investigation of the Montessori Academy after a student’s parent filed a complaint alleging violations of Title III of the ADA. The parent filed the complaint after the school alerted her that the student was not accepted to the school for the following year, despite having been a student there for some time.    

           

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the Montessori Academy will ensure that it will not discriminate against any individual on the basis of disability, including autism.   The Montessori Academy agrees to provide children with disabilities an equal opportunity to attend the Montessori Academy and to participate in all programs, services or activities.   The school has also agreed to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices or procedures when such modifications are necessary to afford its child care services and facilities to children with disabilities, except when doing so would cause a fundamental alteration of its services or when the child’s participation in programs, services or activities causes a direct threat to others.   The Montessori Academy will also pay $5,000 to the party affected by the school’s previous policies.

 

“All children deserve access to educational services, and making sure that schools are fully accessibile to children with disabilities is a necessary part of integrating individuals with disabilities into all aspects of American life,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “The department is committed to vigorously enforcing Title III of the ADA.”

 

Title III of the ADA prohibits private entities that offer public accommodations, like the Montessori Academy, from excluding people with disabilities, including people with autism, from full and equal enjoyment of the services provided.  Anyone interested in learning more about federal disability rights statutes can call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301, 800-514-0383 (TTY), or visit the ADA website at www.ada.gov .    For more information about the Civil Rights Division, visit its website at www.justice.gov/crt or follow @civilrights on Twitter.

 
Two Arkansas Men Plead Guilty to Firebombing an Interracial Couple’s Home

WASHINGTON – Two Arkansas men pleaded guilty on May 10 in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, Ark., to charges related to their involvement in the firebombing of the house of an interracial couple, the Justice Department announced.

 

During the plea proceedings, Dustin Hammond of Sharp County, Ark., and Jake Murphy of Scott County, Ark., admitted that on the night of Jan.14, 2011, while at a party in Evening Shade, Ark., they and two other men devised a plan to firebomb an interracial couple’s home.   Thereafter, all four co-defendants drove from Evening Shade to the victims’ house in Hardy, Ark.   Upon arrival, the co-defendants constructed three Molotov cocktails and threw them at the house.   The couple was also barraged with racial slurs and threatened with future violence if they did not leave Arkansas. The victims’ house sustained some damage during the incident.   The victims were not injured.  

 

Hammond and Murphy pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against rights and one count of criminal violation of housing rights.

 

“Firebombing a family’s home because of their race is a deplorable act of hate that will not be tolerated in our country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will vigorously prosecute those who resort to violent acts motivated by hate.”

 

Hammond and Murphy face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.   Sentencing has been set for Aug. 12, 2011.   The remaining co-defendants are scheduled to go to trial on May 31, 2011.     

 

This case was investigated by the Little Rock, Ark., Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White of the Eastern District of Arkansas and Trial Attorney Henry Leventis of the Civil Rights Division.

 
Justice Department Files Motion to Ensure That Mississippi School District Complies with Desegregation Orders

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced that it has asked the federal court overseeing a longstanding desegregation case against the school district in Cleveland, Miss., to enforce the previously-entered desegregation orders governing the district and compel the district’s compliance with federal law.  

 

In a motion filed with the court on May 3, the United States alleges that the school district has failed to dismantle the vestiges of segregation in its schools, and that schools that were racially segregated by law in 1969, when the district was originally ordered to desegregate, remain so today.   Prior to 1969, schools on the west side of the railroad tracks that run through Cleveland were white schools segregated by law.   More than forty years later, these schools maintain their character and reputation as white schools with a student body and faculty that are disproportionately white.   Similarly, schools on the east side of the railroad tracks – originally black schools segregated by law – have never been integrated; and remain all-black or virtually-all-black schools today.   In most cases, the schools on the east side and west side of the railroad tracks are less than three miles apart.       

 

After unsuccessful attempts to work with the school district on this matter, the United States has asked the court to rule that the school district has violated the existing desegregation orders and federal law, and order the district to devise and implement a desegregation plan that will eliminate the vestiges of the district’s former dual school system in an expeditious manner.

 

“It is intolerable for school districts to continue operating schools that retain their racial identity from the Jim Crow era,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “If school districts are not willing to work collaboratively to eradicate the vestiges of de jure segregated schools, we will ask the courts to take the steps necessary to ensure that students of all racial backgrounds have the opportunity to attend diverse, inclusive schools.”

 

Enforcement of the court orders mandating the desegregation of school districts formerly segregated by law is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   For example, on March 23, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi entered an order modifying the 1969 desegregation order governing the operations of the school district in Leake County, Miss.   After a comprehensive review, the department determined that the school district continued to operate four essentially single-race schools.   After taking account of a district wide capacity study and the input of more than 800 students, parents and concerned citizens who attended a community meeting, the Department of Justice and the school district jointly requested the closure of two schools as well as the reassignment of students and faculty, and improvements to the quality of education and extracurricular activities at the remaining schools.   The court’s order granted all of the modifications sought by the parties.  

 

Justice Department Signs Agreement with the City of Independence, Kansas, to Ensure Civic Access for People with Disabilities

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on April 29 announced an agreement with the city of Independence, Kan., to improve access to all aspects of civic life for people with disabilities.   The agreement was reached under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

 

“ Individuals with disabilities must have the opportunity to participate in local government programs, services and activities on an equal basis with their neighbors,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We applaud Independence officials for their commitment to improving access for all residents and visitors with disabilities to the full range of city programs and facilities, including the zoo, library, aquatic center and city hall.”

 

“I hope Kansans will take note of this settlement,” said Barry Grissom, U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas. “It is time to recognize the right of Americans with disabilities to the care and services they need.”

 

PCA was initiated to ensure that persons with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in civic life, a fundamental part of American society.   As part of the PCA initiative, Justice Department investigators, attorneys and architects survey state and local government facilities, services and programs in communities across the country to identify the modifications needed for compliance with ADA requirements.   The agreements are tailored to address the steps each community must take to improve access.   This agreement is the 189th under the PCA initiative.   According to census data, the city population is 9,846, and 23 percent of Independence residents have a disability.  

 

Under the agreement announced today, the city of Independence will take several important steps to improve access for individuals with disabilities, such as:

 

·    Making physical modifications to facilities surveyed by the department so that parking, routes into the buildings, entrances, service areas and counters, restrooms, public telephones and drinking fountains are accessible to people with disabilities;

·    Surveying other facilities and programs and making modifications wherever necessary to achieve full compliance with ADA requirements;

·    Ensuring that buildings and outdoor facilities that will be built or altered by or on behalf of the city comply with the ADA’s architectural requirements;

·    Posting, publishing and distributing a notice to inform members of the public of the provisions of Title II and their applicability to the city’s programs, services and activities;

·    Officially recognizing the Kansas telephone relay service as a key means of communicating with individuals who are deaf, are hard-of-hearing, or have speech impairments, and training staff in using the relay service for telephone communications;

·    Undertaking the required planning and modifications to ensure equal, integrated access to emergency management for individuals with disabilities, including emergency preparedness, notification, evacuation, sheltering, response, clean up and recovery;

·    Developing a method for providing information for interested persons with disabilities concerning the existence and location of the city’s accessible services, activities and programs;

·    Installing signs at any inaccessible entrance to a facility directing individuals with disabilities to an accessible entrance or to information about accessing programs and services at other accessible facilities;

·    Implementing a plan to improve the accessibility of city sidewalks and provide for the installation of accessible curb ramps throughout the city; and

·    Adopting a grievance procedure to deal with complaints of disability discrimination relating to city programs and services.

 

Today’s agreement was reached under Title II of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local governments.   The agreement requires most actions to be completed within three years.   For the required accessibility modifications to sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, transportation stops and curb ramps, the city will work with the disability community to prioritize and complete these modifications within five years.   The department will actively monitor compliance with the agreement until it has confirmed that all required actions have been completed.

 

People interested in finding out more about the ADA, today’s agreement with the city of Independence, the Project Civic Access initiative, or the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments can access the ADA website at www.ada.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).

 
Louisiana Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Civil Rights Violations
WASHINGTON -    The Justice Department announced on April 28 that Johnny Mathis, 47, of Lecompte, La., pleaded guilty to two federal crimes for shooting at the home of three Hispanic men living across the street from him because of the victims’ race and national origin.

 

Mathis pleaded guilty to criminal interference with the right to fair housing and using a firearm during a crime of violence.  Mathis admitted that, on June 15, 2008, he shot at the victims’ home because the victims were Mexican.  When the defendant began shooting at their home, the victims fled into the woods behind their residence.  Mathis then entered the home with his firearm.  All three victims survived the shooting unharmed.

 

“The defendant targeted his neighbors with violence because of their race and national origin,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Acts of violence like this one have no place in our country, and the department will vigorously prosecute those who engage in such conduct.” 

 

“Everyone, regardless of race, national origin or religion, etc., has the right to feel secure in their homes and free from violence,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana Stephanie A. Finley. “That’s pretty basic.  Our office will protect that right for all people residing in this district and will continue to prosecute these types of crimes.”

 

Sentencing is scheduled for July 28, 2011.  Mathis faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine of $ 250,000, or both, on the fair housing charge.  He also faces a mandatory minimum term of 10 years in prison for the firearm charge, which must run consecutively to any term imposed on the fair housing charge.

 

The case was investigated by the FBI.  It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Mudrick of the Western District of Louisiana and by Nicole Lee Ndumele, a Trial Attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

 
New Jersey Man Sentenced for Threatening Employees of National Latino Civil Rights Organizations
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced on April 18 that Vincent Johnson of Brick, N.J., was sentenced to 50 months in prison and three years supervised release for sending a series of threatening email communications to employees of five civil rights organizations that work to improve opportunities for, and challenge discrimination against, Latinos in the United States.   Johnson was also ordered to pay a fine of $10,000.

 

Johnson, 61, who went by the internet pseudonym “Devilfish,” pleaded guilty on Oct.   20, 2010, to 10 counts related to threatening conduct towards the victims, who included employees of the LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; the National Council of La Raza; the League of United Latin American Citizens; and the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders.

 

Johnson admitted that between November 2006 and February 2009, he emailed numerous threats to the victims to prevent them from aiding and encouraging Latinos to participate, without discrimination, in various protected activities, such as accessing the court system, voting, attending public schools, and applying for employment.  Johnson admitted that his threats were motivated by race and national origin. 

 

Examples of Johnson’s threatening language include: “Do you have a last will and testament?   If not, better get one real soon.”; “If the idiots in the organizations which this e-mail is being copied to can't fathom the serious nature of their actions, then they will be on the hit list just like any illegal alien...actually, they are already on the list”; “I am giving you fair warning that your presence and position is being tracked...you are dead meat...along with anyone else in your organization”; “So be warned or we may find you in the obits”; “Get into the American groove or we will destroy your sorry [expletive]”; “My preference would be to buy more ammunition to deal with the growing chaos created by the pro-illegal alien groups.   RIP [names of the victims] who are not the friends of our democracy.”; “After reading the article below can you give me simply one good reason why someone should not put a bullet between your eyes for your actions that are promoting lawlessness in this country?”; and “[Y]ou are putting yourself and your staff at great risk . . . and by virtue of the network that I operate under information about your malevolent ways is broadly disseminated. . . And you could very well find yourself belly up 6 feet under.” Throughout his emails, Johnson also made offensive and disparaging remarks about Latinos, including comments such as, “[t]here can be absolutely no argument against the fact that Mexicans are scum as all they know how to do is [expletive] and kill.”   

 

“The defendant engaged in a hate-fueled campaign of fear to intimidate and terrorize the victims,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Racially-charged threats of violence have no place in a civilized society, and the Department of Justice will vigorously prosecute those who engage in such reprehensible conduct.”

 

“Johnson admitted that he sent threatening emails to individuals and groups because of who they are and what they believe,” said Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey .  “Violence or threats of violence based on race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation are an intolerable violation of our most basic civil rights.  Hiding behind the perceived anonymity of a computer screen to make hateful threats will provide no protection from prosecution.”

 

“Vincent Johnson’s intent was crystal clear: he wanted to strike fear in the hearts of Latino and Hispanic activists in hopes of dissuading their activity,” said Michael B. Ward, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Newark Field Office.  “Such conduct was, and will always, be met with swift response by the FBI.  There is zero tolerance for this type of criminal activity impacting people’s civil rights.”

 

  The case was investigated by the Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J., field offices of the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Benjamin J. Hawk of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Eicher of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.

 
Massachusetts Man Convicted for Burning African-American Church
WASHINGTON –Michael Jacques, 26, of Springfield, Mass., was found guilty by a federal jury of three crimes related to the burning of a predominantly African-American church in Springfield on the morning after Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States, the Justice Department announced on April 14.  

 

Evidence at trial established that in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, within hours of Obama being elected president, Jacques and his co-conspirators agreed to burn and succeeded in burning the newly-constructed Macedonia Church of God in Christ’s building where religious services were to be held.   The building was nearly completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed the entire structure, leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact.   Investigators determined the fire to be incendiary in nature and caused by an unknown quantity of gasoline applied to the exterior and interior of the building.

 

Prior to the Nov. 4, 2008 presidential election, Jacques and his co-conspirators used racial slurs against African-Americans and expressed anger about the possible election of Obama as the first African-American President.   On Nov. 4, 2008, Jacques and his co-conspirators agreed to retaliate against the election by burning the new church because the church members, congregation and bishop were African-American.

 

Jacques was convicted of damaging religious property and obstructing the free exercise of religion because of the race, color or ethnic characteristics of any individual associated with that religious property. Jacques was also convicted of conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate the parishioners of the church  in the free exercise or enjoyment of the right to hold and use real property, a right which is secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and for using fire in the course of a federal felony.

 

“Hateful acts of violence of this kind will not be tolerated in our country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   “The department will continue to vigorously prosecute hate crimes against all individuals.”

 

“This was a very serious case that affected the lives of hundreds of parishioners at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ.  When I met with Bishop Bryant Robinson it was clear to me how much damage was inflicted on his community by this horrible act.  It was not necessarily about the physical structure that was burned, it was about symbolic and personal nature of the crime”, said U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz.  “We are very pleased with the jury’s verdict and want to reaffirm our commitment to defend our most fundamental rights, stemming the tide of hatred and discrimination.”

 

Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 15, 2011.

 

Two other co-conspirators, Thomas Gleason and Benjamin Haskell, have previously pleaded guilty for their role in the offenses.   Haskell was sentenced to nine years in prison and three years of supervised release.  

 

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; FBI; Massachusetts State Police; Hampden County District Attorney’s Office and the Springfield Police Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul H. Smyth and Kevin O’Regan and Nicole Lee Ndumele, Trial Attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

 
More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt. Persons who believe they have experienced or witnessed unlawful housing discrimination may call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777. More information about the Fair Housing Act can also be found at www.justice.gov/crt/housing or www.hud.gov/fairhousing.
 
Justice Department Settles Allegations of Immigration-Related Employment Discrimination in Iowa Against LF Staffing Services Inc.
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on April 8 announced that it has reached a settlement agreement with LF Staffing Services Inc., located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to resolve allegations that LF Staffing Services engaged in employment discrimination by improperly pre-screening job applicants and rejecting valid work authorization documents presented by certain groups of immigrant workers.

 

The department found that LF Staffing Services did not permit job applicants to begin the application process unless they were able to present documents sufficient to establish their employment eligibility and further failed to permit at least one individual who presented valid Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) to apply for employment.   The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prohibits employers from refusing to honor valid employment authorization documents on the basis of citizenship status or national origin.  

 

“The INA’s anti-discrimination provision protects all authorized workers from unfair documentary requests during the Form I-9 process,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to stopping workplace discrimination against citizens and work-authorized non-citizens alike.”

 

Under the terms of the settlement, LF Staffing Services Inc. has agreed to pay $1,100 in civil penalties and full back pay to the injured party.  LF Staffing Services will also train its human resources personnel about employers’ nondiscrimination responsibilities in the I-9 process, and will provide periodic reports to the department.

 

The Civil Rights Division’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, which protects work authorized individuals against discrimination in hiring, firing and recruitment or referral for a fee on the basis of citizenship status and national origin. The INA also protects all work-authorized individuals from discrimination in the employment eligibility verification process and from retaliation.

 

For more information about protections against employment discrimination under federal immigration law, call OSC’s worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688 (1-800-237-2515, TDD for hearing impaired), OSC’s employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155 (1-800-237-2515, TDD for hearing impaired); e-mail osccrt@usdoj.gov; or visit OSC’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc.

 

Arkansas Men Charged with Federal Hate Crime Related to the Assault of Five Hispanic Men
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today the arrest of Sean Popejoy, 19, and Frankie Maybee, 20, both of Green Forest, Ark., on charges related to a racially-motivated assault on five Hispanic men.   A federal grand jury in the Western District of Arkansas returned an indictment on April 5, 2011, charging Popejoy and Maybee with federal hate crime charges and conspiracy to commit a federal hate crime.

 

According to the indictment, Popejoy and Maybee have been charged with one count of conspiracy and five counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was enacted in October 2009.   Specifically, the indictment alleges that on June 20, 2010, the defendants yelled anti-Latino epithets at the victims while at a gas station parking lot.   When the victims drove away, the defendants chased after them in the defendants’ truck.   The defendants eventually caught up to the victims’ car and repeatedly rammed their truck into the victims’ car, causing the victims’ car to go off the road, overturn and ignite.   All five of the victims were physically injured as a result of the defendants’ actions.

 

If convicted, the defendants face maximum penalties of 10 years in prison on each of the civil rights charges.

 

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Fayetteville Division in cooperation with the Arkansas State Police Department and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office.   The case is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner for the Western District of Arkansas and Trial Attorney Edward Chung of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

 

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

You can see all the latest civil rights news by clicking here.

 

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