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Discrimination lawsuit resolved against Pearl property owners and rental agent

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Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Justice

SSM Properties LLC as well as Steven and Sheila Maulding, the owners of several apartment complexes in Pearl, Miss., and their former rental agent, James Roe, have agreed to pay $123,000 to resolve a racial discrimination lawsuit.

The case began when the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center conducted fair-housing testing at the properties to see if any discriminatory practices were taking place. Based on the results of the tests, which showed that Roe treated Black and white testers differently and made prejudiced statements to the Black testers, the center filed a complaint with The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD conducted an investigation and determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, and referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice, which filed the lawsuit. The testers subsequently intervened in the lawsuit as plaintiffs. The court found that Roe’s conduct violated the Fair Housing Act and held the owners legally accountable.

“Housing discrimination has no place in our society and a person’s race should never determine where that person can live,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division said. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously pursue and hold accountable those who would deny equal housing opportunities because of the color of one’s skin.”

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled in August that the defendants had violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against Black prospective residents.

“We will not tolerate discrimination in housing,” U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi. “Those who choose to deny equal housing opportunities will be held to atone for their conduct.”

Under the terms of the consent decree, which must still be approved by the court, the owner-defendants will pay $110,000 in monetary damages and attorneys’ fees to four Black testers and all the defendants will pay civil penalties to the federal government to vindicate the public interest.

Roe will also be prohibited from working at any residential rental properties and requires the owner-defendants to hire an independent leasing manager, implement nondiscriminatory standards and procedures, undergo fair housing training and provide periodic reports to the department.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.

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