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Asbury v. Brougham

    Brief Fact Summary. A black woman attempted to rent an apartment, but was denied.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Fair Housing Act (Act) prohibits discrimination based on race. Plaintiff must present a prima facie case of discrimination. Then, Defendant must produce evidence that the refusal to rent or negotiate for a rental was motivated by non-racial considerations. Third, if Defendant can give non-discriminatory reasons, Plaintiff must show the proffered reasons were pretextual.

    Facts. Rosalyn Asbury (Plaintiff), a black woman, went to an apartment complex and tried to rent an apartment. The manager of Broughham Estates (Defendant) told her there were no vacancies and that she did not keep a waiting list. Defendant would not let her fill out an application or view model units, but suggested that she look at a complex that housed mostly black families. Plaintiff’s income was sufficient to pay rent on Defendant’s apartment. When white customers inquired about units, they were told that units were available. Defendant rented units to whites after Plaintiff was told nothing was available. Plaintiff brought suit under the Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race.

    Issue. When a landlord refuses to lease an apartment to a member of a protected class, may that landlord be found to be in violation of a statute that bans discrimination in housing based on race?

    Held. Yes.
    The Act prohibits discrimination based on race. Plaintiff must prove a discriminatory intent. A violation occurs when race is a factor in a decision to deny a minority applicant the opportunity to rent or negotiate for a rental, but race need not be the only factor in the decision. The Act also prohibits giving false information about the availability of housing based on a person’s race.
    There is a three-part burden of proof in these cases. Plaintiff must present a prima facie case of discrimination. Then, Defendant must produce evidence that the refusal to rent or negotiate for a rental was motivated by non-racial considerations. Third, if Defendant’s can give non-discriminatory reasons, Plaintiff must show the proffered reasons were pretextual.
    To present a prima facie case, Plaintiff has to prove that: (1) she is a member of a racial minority; (2) she applied for and was qualified to rent an apartment or townhouse in the complex; (3) she was denied the opportunity to rent or inspect or negotiate for the rental of a townhouse or apartment; and (4) the housing opportunity remained available.
    Here, a prima facie case was presented. Plaintiff is black, she went to rent an apartment that she could afford, but was not even allowed to view one. She was told that no vacancies existed and was denied the right to fill out an application. Defendant then rented units to white applicants.
    Defendant had a policy of visually inspecting prospective tenants, and under these circumstances, it can be inferred that the policy operated to screen prospective tenants on the basis of race.

    Discussion. The Fair Housing Act is an attempt to prevent racial discrimination in housing. The shifting burdens of proof give both parties a chance to explain their reasoning and motives for their actions.


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