Owner Not Liable for Discrimination
Facts: A resident and his fiancé sued an owner for housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, and familial status. The complaints were based on certain exchanges they had with property management and staff. According to the lawsuit, a maintenance technician “repeatedly insult[ed]” the resident “in the presence of other residents.” In April 2015, they wrote to the regional manager to request that the maintenance technician be terminated. The regional manager didn’t fire him, and the resident claimed that the fact that he and his fiancé are African American “played a role” in the manager’s decision not to terminate the technician.
In another incident, when the resident’s fiancé was in an elevator with a maintenance contractor, the contractor asked her, “So when are you two getting married?” The resident informed the property manager of the incident, but the manager didn’t fire the contractor. The manager likewise didn’t fire the contractor after the resident informed her of another incident, in which the contractor sprayed air freshener into the resident’s face, the resident sneezed, and the contractor screamed at the resident, “What did you say? What did you say?” in a “hostile, threatening manner.”
The resident also described two other unwelcome interactions with staff. First, beginning in March 2014, the maintenance supervisor greeted the resident and his fiancé on at least 50 occasions in common areas “by saying loudly ‘Hey kids!’” According to the resident, the vast majority of tenants are significantly older than he and his fiancé, and they have never heard the maintenance supervisor address older residents with “Hey old people!” or similar greetings. Second, in June 2016, at approximately 9 a.m., the property manager visited to conduct a routine inspection and “repeatedly and forcefully banged on Plaintiffs’ front door with her fist” instead of using the door knocker, which maintenance staff typically use when seeking entry to an apartment.
In August 2016, the site notified the resident and his fiancé that their residency would be terminated based on an incident in which one of them took money out of a wallet left in a common area. Shortly after, the resident filed this lawsuit. The owner asked the court to dismiss the case.
Ruling: The Maryland district court granted the owner’s request and dismissed the resident’s claims.
Reasoning: With regard to age discrimination, the resident asserted that the owner discriminated against them based on their age by allowing its management, staff, and contractors to treat him and his fiancé differently than the rest of the tenants at the site based on the fact that they are much younger than the vast majority of tenants who live in the building. Specifically, they highlighted being called “kids” when greeted. The court pointed out that the Fair Housing Act does not list age as a prohibited basis of discrimination.
The resident’s familial status discrimination claim, which was based on being asked when they were getting married, also fails because the FHA’s prohibition on discrimination based on familial status protects families with children, not unmarried couples. Specifically, “familial status” is defined as “one or more individuals (who have not attained the age of 18 years) being domiciled with” either “a parent or another person having legal custody of such individual or individuals” or “the designee of such parent or other person having such custody.” Under this definition of familial status, which does not encompass marital status, neither plaintiff is a member of a protected class.
The court also stated that the resident’s claims of housing discrimination based on race and color are insufficient to state a claim for relief. The resident’s allegations don’t allege facts to show that tenants of a different race or color were treated differently under similar circumstances.
Similarly, the resident’s discrimination claim based on national origin fails because although he alleged that the fiancé is of Ethiopian national origin, and therefore a member of a protected class, the complaint provided the court with no fact-based allegations that tenants who were of a different national origin were treated more favorably than she was under similar circumstances.
- Morris v. Leon N. Weiner & Assoc., Inc., March 2017