On behalf of the American Bankers Association and state bankers associations across the country, K&L Gates partner Paul F. Hancock and associate Olivia Kelman crafted a comment that was submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD” or “Department”) on August 20, 2018, in support of reopening rulemaking regarding the Department’s implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard. On June 20, 2018, HUD issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking that sought public comment on possible amendments to the Department’s 2013 final disparate impact rule in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2507 (2015). In that decision, the Supreme Court articulated the standards for, and the constitutional limitations on, disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act. The comment explains that the rule should be amended because it adopts standards that are inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent, fails to provide much needed guidance to entities seeking to comply with the law, and is therefore outdated and ineffective. A copy of the comment is available here.
K&L Gates LLP recently presented the views of the major banking and lending trade associations, as amici curiae, in a federal challenge to HUD’s Fair Housing Act disparate-impact rule. The views expressed are those of the American Bankers Association, the American Financial Services Association, the Consumer Bankers Association, the Consumer Mortgage Coalition, the Financial Services Roundtable, the Independent Community Bankers of America®, and the Mortgage Bankers Association. The HUD rule challenge is likely to have a far-reaching effect on the housing industry and affiliated sectors of the economy. The lending industry argued that the HUD rule fails to comply with binding Supreme Court precedent governing disparate-impact claims. Moreover, HUD—which lacks the power to legislate—impermissibly adopted a legal standard that Congress enacted for a different civil rights law. And compounding its error, HUD cherry-picked only the plaintiff-friendly portions of that standard while ignoring substantial limitations Congress had imposed. Amici filed their brief to assist the trial court in understanding the full potential effect of the HUD disparate-impact rule, urging the court to overturn the rule.
To read the full alert, click here.
By: Paul F. Hancock
The Court’s decision today resolves an important legal issue about which there has been principled disagreement among White House administrations, as well as among advocacy and industry groups, for decades. While the Court, by a razor thin margin, upheld the application of disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act, the Court also imposed important limitations on the application of the legal theory. For example, the Court held that a racial imbalance, without more, does not establish a case of discrimination, and directed lower courts to “examine with care” the claims presented at the pleading stage. The Court further directed that remedial orders in disparate impact cases must “concentrate on the elimination of the offending practice” and employ “race-neutral [remedial] means.” The limitations that were announced were believed necessary by the Court to “avoid serious constitutional questions that might arise” and “to protect potential defendants against abusive disparate-impact claims.”
On January 21, 2015, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (the “Texas DHCA case”). The case presents the question whether the Fair Housing Act recognizes a disparate-impact theory of liability. See Tex. Dep’t of Hous. & Cmty. Affairs v. The Inclusive Cmtys. Project, Inc., — S. Ct. —, 2014 WL 4916193 (Oct. 2, 2014) (No. 13-1371) (granting petition for writ of certiorari). Under that theory, a plaintiff may challenge a defendant’s policies or practices that are neutral on their face (that is, do not reflect any intent to discriminate) but that purportedly have a disproportionate effect on groups sharing certain statutorily-defined characteristics such as race or national origin. The Supreme Court has expressed strong interest in the issue, granting certiorari three times in the last four terms to decide the question, only to have the parties settle just before oral argument in the previous two matters. See Magner v. Gallagher, S. Ct. No. 10-1032, and Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., S. Ct. No. 11-1507. At argument in the Texas DHCA case, the public was finally able to hear the nature of the Court’s interest in the issue.
By: Melanie Brody, Anjali Garg*
*Ms. Garg is a law clerk and is not admitted to practice law.
On March 24, 2014, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion in Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. v. Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs applying HUD’s discriminatory effects rule and burden-shifting analysis to a Fair Housing Act claim. This is the first circuit court to apply the rule since it took effect on March 18, 2013. Read More
Today, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the appeal titled Township of Mount Holly, New Jersey v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., et al., No. 11-1507, agreeing to consider whether the Fair Housing Act allows claims under the disparate impact theory of discrimination. The disparate impact doctrine imposes liability on defendants for actions undertaken without discriminatory intent but which nonetheless have an allegedly disproportionately harmful effect on protected classes of persons.
In an increasingly complex battle among the branches of the federal government, the Solicitor General recently urged the Supreme Court to deny certiorari in the appeal titled Township of Mount Holly, New Jersey v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., et al., No. 11-1507. The Mt. Holly matter seeks review of whether the Fair Housing Act recognizes a disparate impact theory of discrimination and if so, how courts are to analyze such claims. A disparate impact theory imposes liability on defendants for actions that are undertaken without discriminatory intent but that nonetheless have a disproportionately harmful effect on particular groups of individuals. The Supreme Court had previously granted certiorari to review these same questions in the appeal titled Magner v. Gallagher, No. 10-1032, which appeal the defendants subsequently withdrew under circumstances garnering review by Congress.
The Department of Justice recently announced a $21 million settlement with SunTrust Mortgage over allegations that SunTrust’s neutral and non-discriminatory policy of granting loan originators discretionary pricing authority somehow resulted in loans to minority borrowers to be priced higher than loans to White borrowers. DOJ based its case on the disparate impact theory of discrimination; as such, the Department did not allege that SunTrust treated minority borrowers in a disparate or discriminatory manner. Instead, the case follows DOJ’s practice of filing fair lending cases solely on statistical analyses of loan data and without alleging that any person treated a borrower differently because of race or ethnicity. Read More
In a rare and unexpected move, the City of St. Paul last Friday agreed to dismiss its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging whether a violation under the Fair Housing Act may be proved under a disparate impact legal theory, or whether proof of intentional discrimination is required. As we posted previously, the Supreme Court on November 7, 2011 granted certiorari in Magner v. Gallagher to determine that issue. All briefs in the matter had been submitted, and oral argument was set for later this month. Read More