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Dickinson et al v. Zanesville Metropolitan Housing Authority et al

Dickinson et al v. Zanesville Metropolitan Housing Authority et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, 2013 WL 5487101 (Sept. 30, 2013)
Issue: Can a female victim of domestic violence state a cause of action under the Fair Housing Act based on sex discrimination by alleging the housing authority failed to act and instead blamed her for violence caused by the father of her children.

Summary: A federal district court rejected a defendant’s motion to dismiss a housing discrimination case involving a female victim of domestic violence. The court found the plaintiff pled a viable claim of sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) against the housing authority that operated the apartment complex by alleging that it failed to respond to her calls for help and instead blamed, reprimanded, created inaccurate records, and attempted to evict her.
Kayla Dickinson lived at Coopermill Manor, a public apartment complex operated by Zanesville Housing Authority (ZMHA). She was the victim of domestic violence brought about by the father of two of her children, Brandon Somers. Somers, who did not live at the apartment complex, frequently trespassed into plaintiff’s home, physically abused her, damaged her property, threatened her, and disturbed other residents. The Zanesville Police Department was notified about several of these incidents. Eventually, Somers was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to prison.
According to plaintiff’s complaint, ZMHA’s security was slow to respond to her calls for help. Even though she attempted to explain the danger Somers posed to her, ZMHA blamed her for the incidents. ZMHA’s staff also failed to investigate the accuracy of the complaints lodged by other tenants against Dickinson. Instead, it created electronic records of the incidents, which stated that she was culpable for the disturbances. ZMHA informed Dickinson that it would not protect her and threatened to evict her if she did not elect to leave voluntarily. Several years after she left Coopermill Manor, ZMHA sent multiple negative reference letters to other landlords, creating a roadblock for Dickinson to obtain new housing.
Outcome: Based on these allegations, the court found that Dickinson properly pled that ZMHA interfered, or allowed Somers to interfere, with her ability to live at Coopermill Manor in violation of the FHA. It found that ZMHA was aware, or should have been aware, that she was the victim of domestic violence. Since it failed to satisfy its obligations under the Violence Against Women Act, and since it blamed her for the results of the domestic violence, Dickinson’s allegations could give rise to an inference that ZMHA acted with intent to discriminate based on sex.
Legal Significance: Landlords receiving federal subsidies can be held liable for sex discrimination claims under the FHA by failing to properly respond to complaints of domestic violence and by assuming the female victim is the cause of the problem.