The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, just upheld the use of disparate impact claims under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which bans housing discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.
This case ruled that a plaintiff does not need to prove intent to discriminate- a standard that is nearly impossible to meet. Instead, the plaintiff can use the tool of disparate impact to show discrimination based on a policy or policies of the defendant.
“A disparate-impact claim relying on a statistical disparity must fail if the plaintiff cannot point to a defendant’s policy or policies causing that disparity,” the majority of the Supreme Court said. “A robust causality requirement is important in ensuring that defendants do not resort to the use of racial quotas.”
“Our country remains deeply segregated and we need not only provisions of the Fair Housing Act to be intact, but we need aggressive, and affirmative enforcement of the act by the federal government and by state jurisdictions,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“Losing this case would have resulted in a serious blow to the Fair Housing Act,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “It’s troubling that this was only a 5 to 4 decision. Upholding the integrity of the Fair Housing Act is essential if we are ever going to desegregate our neighborhoods.”
“The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is incredibly pleased that the United States Supreme Court today has reaffirmed core principles of fairness and equality,” the organization said in a statement, “by clearly and unambiguously recognizing both the legality and the importance of the ‘disparate impact‘ protections of the Fair Housing Act in addressing housing discrimination.”
Media Resources: Supreme Court Decision King v. Burwell 6/25/15; CNN 6/25/15; NAACP LDF Press Release 6/25/15