Court stops launch of HUD rule that makes it harder to prove discrimination

By Katy O'Donnell
·2 min read

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction to stop the Department of Housing and Urban Development from implementing a rule that would have made it harder to bring discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act.

The rule, set to take effect Monday, would have required plaintiffs to meet a higher threshold to prove unintentional discrimination, known as disparate impact. The new rule — an update to the agency’s 2013 disparate impact rule — would also have given defendants more leeway to rebut the claims.

“These significant alterations, which run the risk of effectively neutering disparate impact liability under the Fair Housing Act, appear inadequately justified,” wrote Judge Mark Mastroianni of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in an opinion filed Sunday.

The rule is part of a larger Trump administration effort to roll back Obama-era antidiscrimination rules. Trump this summer scrapped another Obama rule, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Act, requiring localities to track patterns of segregation or else lose federal funding.

In granting the preliminary nationwide injunction, Mastroianni wrote that the plaintiffs — the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center and Housing Works — “have shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of their claim that the new rule is “arbitrary and capricious” and violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

The injunction means HUD will be unable to implement the new rule until the legal challenge is resolved.

“As we face both a global pandemic and an ever-worsening housing crisis, it is imperative that our most vulnerable community members know there are robust legal protections to combat barriers to housing opportunity,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs last month.

HUD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.