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Retaliation Under the Fair Housing Act

Fair Housing Act: Historical Perspective

One week after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (“FHA”). This came after many unsuccessful attempts throughout the years to end discriminatory practices related to housing, in addition to the many other attempts to address other forms discriminatory practices in the United States.


Retaliation in Violation of the Fair Housing Act

So, you reported discriminatory housing practices on behalf of someone else, but now you have experienced an adverse employment action. Do you have a claim? The answer: possibly. Although the primary purpose of the FHA is to address discriminatory practices regarding housing itself, the FHA also provides remedies for those who have been retaliated against due to reporting such discriminatory practices.

The FHA makes it unlawful to retaliate “against any person because that person has made a complaint, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in a proceeding under the Fair Housing Act.” The Act also makes it unlawful to retaliate “against any person because that person reported a discriminatory housing practice to a housing provider or other authority.”

Burden Shifting Analysis

An individual asserting a claim under the FHA can produce direct evidence in support of their claim(s), but the majority of cases rely upon circumstantial evidence. When analyzing a retaliation claim under the FHA that rests upon circumstantial evidence, courts apply the same methods of analysis used when asserting claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. This approach, known as the McDonnell Douglas Burden Shifting Framework, requires that the plaintiff first establish a prima facie case of retaliation. Upon establishing a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the defendant to produce a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the defendant can do so, the burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant’s reason(s) is merely pretext or, in other words, to discredit the employer’s reason(s).

Caselaw

In Hall v. Lowder Realty Co., a real-estate agent sued her former employer after they engaged in racially discriminatory referral practices and then retaliated against her for opposing this practice by terminating her employment. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama noted that the FHA “has been interpreted to prohibit retaliation against employees who advocate for the fair-housing rights of others.” The court further stated that “[i]t is apparent from the language of [the FHA] and the HUD regulations that a plaintiff need only show (1) that she ‘aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise’ of certain FHA rights and (2) that, ‘on account of’ such, the defendant ‘interfered’ with that effort or ‘retaliated’ against the plaintiff.”

In Hall, the employee repeatedly complained about the employer’s racial discrimination against herself and her clients, including in the employer’s referral practices. Without even counseling the employee, who was the number two producer, the employer terminated her employment. The court ultimately allowed the employee’s FHA retaliation claim to proceed by denying the employer’s motion for summary judgment.


If you feel your rights have been violated, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady Michel & King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you!