UPDATE: On March 25, 2021, the Second Circuit ruled against the plaintiff/tenant in this case alleging racial harassment in housing, holding that the plaintiff did not have enough evidence showing racial animus behind the landlord’s failure to take any action after the plaintiff notified him of the racial harassment from a neighbor. Adding to the dangerous impact of the decision, the majority also held that a typical landlord does not have enough control over their tenants to be held liable for tenant-on-tenant harassment, even when landlords have the power to evict or take other action against the tenant. This decision could have devastating impacts not only for tenant-on-tenant racial harassment, but also tenant-on-tenant sexual harassment and other forms of harassment prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Judge Lohier’s dissent referenced our amicus brief and the widespread problem of tenant-on-tenant sexual harassment in housing.
On May 7, 2020, the National Women’s Law Center, the ACLU Women’s Right Project, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and our firm partners Jenner & Block LLP, were joined by 49 additional organizations as we submitted our amicus brief to the Second Circuit in support of the plaintiff in Francis v. Kings Park Manor. The case involves a Black tenant who faced severe racial harassment from a fellow tenant. The plaintiff alleges that the landlord had the obligation to take reasonable steps within its control to stop a hostile housing environment based on a protected class. The Second Circuit agreed with the plaintiff and now the court has voted to rehear the case en banc.
Our brief addressed the consequences that the Second Circuit’s decision will have for housing protections for all tenants and particularly for women with regard to sexual harassment. We outlined how sexual harassment in housing is widespread and causes unique and devastating harms that can lead to housing instability and urged the Second Circuit to interpret the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in a manner that ensures that housing discrimination will be addressed in accordance with comparable federal civil rights protections in other contexts. Ensuring the FHA’s broad protections, including equal access to securing and maintaining safe housing, is especially important during economic crises like the one unleashed by the spread of the novel coronavirus.