Owner Not Liable for Retaliation, Time-Barred Alleged Discriminatory Acts
Facts: A resident sued an owner for unlawful discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The resident claimed that the property manager discriminated against her because she is a Jehovah’s Witness and retaliated against her after she filed religious discrimination complaints with HUD and the state’s Human Rights Commission.
With respect to her religious discrimination claim, the resident alleged that the manager prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses from hosting religious or personal meetings in the main lobby, yard, or kitchen, while permitting tenants of other religious faiths to host such meetings; required tenants to attend “mandatory” political meetings, even though the Jehovah’s Witness faith prohibits participation in politics; gave preferential treatment in housing to non-Jehovah’s Witness tenants; and refused to allow the resident to leave religious information in the lobby, while allowing other non-Jehovah’s Witness tenants to leave their religious information in the lobby.
The resident claimed that she asked to hold a religious service in the main lobby in 2010 after a friend’s mother passed away, and the manager refused the request. In contrast, the resident alleged, other religious groups were permitted to hold Sunday service meetings and Bible study groups at the site on a regular basis. The resident also claimed that the manager stated over the intercom system that the resident should place her religious magazines “in the trash where they belong.”
In May 2014, according to the resident, the manager withheld documents relating to her application for annual recertification for a housing subsidy from HUD, and then failed to submit her application in a timely manner, causing her to lose her HUD subsidy. She claimed that after she lost her subsidy, the owner raised her rent to the full market rate, even though the manager knew that she could pay only 30 percent of the market rate for the apartment without the HUD subsidy.
In September 2014, HUD issued a Letter of Findings in response to the resident’s complaint alleging religious discrimination. In the letter, HUD stated that, following an investigation, it made a determination of no probable cause with respect to all of the allegations in her HUD complaint. She asked for a review, and HUD upheld the investigator’s findings. The owner asked the court for a judgment without a trial in its favor.
Ruling: A Pennsylvania district court granted the owner’s request with respect to the resident’s religious discrimination claim, to the extent it related to events that occurred prior to March 8, 2011, and the resident’s retaliation claim, to the extent it related to the owner’s failure to properly file the resident’s HUD recertification paperwork.
Reasoning: The Fair Housing Act has a two-year statute of limitations—that is, there’s a two-year period within which a person can bring a legal action against another party for violating the act. And the resident didn’t file her HUD complaint until March 8, 2013. Therefore, the resident was entitled to include claims in this action relating to events that occurred, at the earliest, on March 8, 2011.
As a result, the court ruled for the owner on the resident’s religious discrimination claim to the extent that claim was based on events that occurred before March 8, 2011. The religious discrimination claims relating primarily to events that occurred in 2012 and 2013 involving allegations that she wasn’t permitted to leave her religious materials in the lobby after she filed her HUD complaint in August 2012, and that she was required to attend political meetings during the 2012 presidential election campaign may go to trial.
With respect to the retaliation claim, the resident had to show a causal link between her protected activity and the alleged retaliation. Here, she alleged that her protected activity was the filing of HUD and PHRC complaints in August 2012 and March 2013, and that the manager failed to properly fill out her HUD recertification paperwork in May 2014. Therefore, at minimum, approximately 14 months elapsed between the protected activity and the adverse action. The court stated that that time period is insufficient to create an inference of causation on its own. And looking at the record at the whole, the court ruled that the resident presented no other evidence that creates an inference of causation, particularly as she acknowledged that the owner properly submitted her paperwork in May 2013.
- LLoyd v. Presby’s Inspired Life, May 2017