PHA May Be Liable for National Origin Discrimination
Facts: A native Spanish-speaking resident with limited English proficiency claimed that despite numerous requests to the local PHA to provide language translation services, she had been rebuffed each time. As a result, all major communications, as well as her lease, had been provided to her in English only, and neither the owner nor the PHA provided translation services.
Due to the unaddressed language barrier, the resident claimed that her family was unable to effectively convey to the owner and the PHA a laundry list of serious habitability problems with their unit and therefore was unable to get most of the problems resolved. She claimed that while living in the unit household members were the victims of “rodent, bedbug, and cockroach infestation; mold, leaky faucets; a leaking toilet; raw sewage backup in the sinks, toilets, and outside the unit; broken plaster, tiles, and nails protruding from the stairs; and a defective shower.” Even in the rare circumstances where the household was able to convey a problem to the management, their complaints were disregarded and the habitability problems remained.
On one occasion when the resident informed the site manager of a problem, the manager allegedly dismissed the issue and stated that she “should learn English now that she is in America.” Moreover, the resident asserted that her children both suffer from asthma, which substantially impairs their ability to breathe, and that the failure to provide language translation services as well as the unremedied living conditions exacerbated their asthma symptoms, causing one of her sons at one point to be hospitalized.
In April 2011, the resident filed a fair housing complaint with HUD. In the course of the HUD investigation into her allegations, the manager stated to a HUD investigator that the resident didn’t have a right to live in the PHA’s property “because she is an undocumented immigrant,” which the resident denied. The resident withdrew her complaint with HUD, and sued for discrimination in district court. The PHA asked the court to dismiss her fair housing claims.
Ruling: A California district court denied the PHA’s request to dismiss the resident’s claim for national origin discrimination under a disparate treatment theory.
Reasoning: The court said that the resident alleged sufficient facts to support a claim for intentional discrimination on the basis of national origin under a disparate treatment theory. She alleged that the manager and other PHA employees repeatedly brushed off her requests for interpreter assistance and were at times hostile to her. The court concluded that the resident alleged facts that add up to “more than a sheer possibility” that the PHA violated the terms of her lease by failing to provide language translation accommodations and failing to remedy the uninhabitable conditions of her unit because of her national origin. Therefore, the court ruled that the resident successfully stated a claim for intentional discrimination on the basis of national origin under the Fair Housing Act and a trial can commence.
- Cabrera v. Alvarez, March 2013