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Doe v. City of Butler

    Brief Fact Summary. A battered women’s shelter was excluded from using a building because it violated a city ordinance.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When an ordinance is facially neutral and applies to all transitional dwellings, whether the residents are male or female, the Fair Housing Act will not be violated.

    Facts. An organization wanted to use a building as a temporary shelter for abused women and children. The City Council (Defendant) denied their application because the use was not within the provisions of the city’s zoning ordinance as it limited transitional dwellings to six residents. The organization contends the ordinance is invalid under the Fair Housing Act (Act), which prohibits discrimination in housing, because it has a discriminatory effect on protected groups. The Act prohibits discrimination based on sex.

    Issue. Do battered women’s shelters fall within the protection of the Fair Housing Act?

    Held. No.
    The fact that the ordinance will have an impact on group homes established for abused women does not alone establish discriminatory effect, because the resident limitation would have a comparable effect on males if the transitional dwelling was established for a different group, such as recovering male alcoholics. There is no evidence that the application of the rule falls more harshly on women than on men.
    Plaintiffs allege that the restriction on the number of residents in the dwelling operates to limit or exclude women with children, in violation of the familial status provision of the Act. However, not enough evidence is on the record to decide this issue.

    Dissent. The familial status provision refers only to single families, not to families who desire to live communally. There is nothing in the language of the Act to support the idea that the Act is intended to extend protection to families who wish to live in groups.

    Discussion. A group home that is excluded because of a city ordinance will not be protected by the Act if the group is defined by sex. Both men and women could be affected equally by the ordinance, so no discrimination based on sex exists.


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