The U.S. Region V Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity has found no reasonable cause to believe there was a violation of the Fair Housing Act in the case of a woman who posted an ad for a "female Christian roommate" on her church bulletin board. The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan filed a complaint against a 31-year old Grand Rapids (MI) woman who posted the notice after someone in her congregation complained about the ad. (See prior posting.) While the complaint was filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, that agency, in a statement, said that it coordinates with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to assure uniform application of the law, and HUD decided that the legal and Constitutional issues posed by the case were ones it wanted to address.
In its Oct. 28 Determination of No Reasonable Cause, HUD said:
The advertisement contains statements that indicate a preference or limitation based on religion and gender. In general, 42 U.S.C. 3604(c) prohibits such statements whether made verbally or in writing. However, in light of the facts provided and after assessing the unique context of the advertisement and the roommate relationship involved in this particular situation potentially involving the sharing of personal religious beliefs, the Department defers to Constitutional considerations in reaching its conclusion.The statement issued by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights emphasized that it had never implied during its investigation that there was a violation of law. It went on to say:
We do not comment on the specifics of an open investigation until we have reached an official determination, and we do not reach a determination until after an investigation is complete and it can be based on all of (and only) the facts. In this instance, we sincerely wish everyone would have done the same.
Because some chose to ignore the difference between conducting a legally-required investigation and the decision to bring a charge of discrimination based upon that investigation when appropriate, this office and specifically a member of our staff was subjected to a barrage of phone calls, emails, comments, posts and blog entries. Although these communications were premature in that they falsely accused us of having made a determination, they were mostly valid expressions of personal opinion, which the Department is always interested in receiving. However, many also included threats or other inappropriate personal attacks. The Department of Civil Rights will not tolerate such conduct, which it believes is never appropriate. All threatening communications have been and will be forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.Under the Fair Housing Act (background), HUD's determination does not preclude filing of a federal lawsuit by a victim of discrimination at that person's own expense. (42 USC Sec. 3613.) Today's Grand Rapids Press reports on the case.