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LatinoJustice and Cleary Gottlieb Joined by Civil Rights and Anti-Poverty Law Groups File Amicus Brief Urging Second Circuit Court of Appeals to Find Blatant Tenant-to-Tenant Racial Harassment Actionable Against Landlord Under the Fair Housing Act

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October 1st, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Elianne Ramos, [email protected]

 

LatinoJustice and Cleary Gottlieb Joined by Civil Rights and Anti-Poverty Law Groups File Amicus Brief Urging Second Circuit Court of Appeals to Find Blatant Tenant-to-Tenant Racial Harassment Actionable Against Landlord Under the Fair Housing Act

New York, NY – For most people, a home is a place of refuge and relief: a sanctuary to retreat to, to shelter-in-place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, or to escape life’s challenges. But, for far too long, Latinos, African Americans, and other people of color have endured hostility in their homes, including blatant and pervasive racial harassment.

On September 24, 2020, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, heard oral arguments in Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc. to determine whether the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which proscribes discrimination in housing, requires defendant, a landlord, to take prompt action to rectify known egregious acts of racial harassment that were perpetrated against plaintiff, Mr. Francis, by his neighbor. LatinoJusticePRLDEF and New York based fair housing, civil rights, and anti-poverty law groups, represented by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, submitted a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief in support of Mr. Francis, urging the Court to find that the FHA protects him from racial harassment.  

LatinoJustice’s amicus brief argued that the widespread acts of racial violence and intimidation against African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans in the 1960s when Congress debated and passed the FHA, and persistent, ongoing, and contemporary acts of racial terror, particularly targeting Latino communities on Long Island, NY, are remediable under the Act because Congress so intended, and the plain language of the Act reaches such abhorrent conduct. Mr. Francis, who is African American, endured months of severe racial harassment by his next-door neighbor, who repeatedly called him the “n”-word, threatened to kill him, and violated his privacy by photographing his apartment. Mr. Francis sought police intervention and complained numerous times to his landlord, Kings Park Manor, which intentionally declined to take any remedial steps to address the extreme harassment.

“We urge the Court to rely on long established precedent in the employment context holding an employer liable for failing to remedy a hostile work environment to afford protection from racial harassment to Latinos, African Americans and other people of color who continue to experience horrendous discrimination in housing. Indeed, in this COVID-19 environment where many of us have to quarantine at home, people of color should not be forced to also endure racist taunts, intimidation, and threats of racial violence in their homes,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJusticePRLDEF.

“Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is honored to stand with, and support, LatinoJustice in urging the Court to interpret the Fair Housing Act as creating a remedy to prevent the egregious conduct that occurred in this case, in order that this historic Civil Rights legislation can continue to serve its still necessary purpose of eradicating housing discrimination and thereby helping us become a fairer, more equitable, and more integrated society,” said Tom Moloney, who is a partner at Cleary Gottlieb.

"The communities and clients we represent on Long Island, where Kings Park Manor is located, still face discrimination in housing more than fifty years after the Fair Housing Act was enacted. Landlords in New York are empowered and required by state law to ensure that their tenants can live in homes free from racially motivated harassment and threats from other tenants. By refusing to respond to Mr. Francis’s repeated complaints, Kings Park Manor contributes to a climate of fear and persecution in Black and Brown communities that prevents people from living in a home of their choice and worsens rampant housing segregation that already exists. It is clear that the landlord’s inaction constitutes racial discrimination prohibited by the FHA,” said Linda Hassberg, a Senior Attorney at Empire Justice Center, a statewide legal services and advocacy organization.

“After a thorough en banc oral argument, we are hopeful that the court will agree with the position of the Plaintiff and our Amicus brief partners that for the protections of fair housing laws to be realized, landlords must take action on complaints of racial discrimination and harassment by one tenant against another,” said Ian Wilder, Executive Director of Long Island Housing Services, Inc.

Amici on the brief are LatinoJusticePRLDEF, Empire Justice Center, Long Island Housing Services, Inc., Legal Aid Society, Community Service Society of New York and Justice For All Coalition, represented by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.

A decision from the en banc panel is expected in the coming months.

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ABOUT LATINOJUSTICE

LatinoJustice PRLDEF works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. For more than 40 years, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has acted as an advocate against injustices throughout New York and beyond. To learn more about LatinoJustice, visit www.latinojustice.org.