WASHINGTON—Today, in a historic civil rights action challenging digital housing discrimination on Facebook, a non-profit group and an older woman seeking to represent a class of thousands of older tenants filed a lawsuit against 10 residential property management companies, including a number of industry leaders, alleging that they denied older prospective tenants the opportunity to receive their paid advertisements on Facebook for apartments.
This is the first civil rights lawsuit involving Facebook advertising to name and take legal action against housing companies that have allegedly engaged in discrimination when sending paid ads on Facebook. Prior housing discrimination lawsuits against Facebook did not identify or sue housing providers. In March 2019, the federal government filed a charge against Facebook challenging similar discriminatory housing advertising on Facebook. The charge is still pending.
Housing Rights Initiative (HRI) and Ms. Neuhtah Opiotennione, a 55-year-old District of Columbia resident, have filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland against some of the largest companies that lease or manage apartments in the nation, including some that manage dozens or hundreds of apartment buildings. They allege that by refusing to send older people housing ads and making statements in the ads that the companies want to reach people in younger age ranges the 10 companies have violated District of Columbia and Montgomery County, Maryland civil rights laws.
The class action lawsuit describes and provides examples of the age-restricted ads that the defendants allegedly purchased from Facebook to recruit tenants. (Examples of the ads are attached to the complaint linked below).
The 10 companies named as defendants in the lawsuit are: Bozzuto, Greystar, Kettler, Wood Partners, Fairfield Residential, JBG Smith, Pinnacle, Vantage, Berkshire and The Tower Companies, all of which allegedly sent age-restricted Facebook housing ads in the past two years.
HRI and the older residents are seeking a commitment from these 10 companies to implement non-discriminatory policies throughout all of their digital advertising, cease advertising on Facebook so long as Facebook applies a discriminatory algorithm that allegedly relies on age to determine which Facebook users receive each housing ad, educate and train their staff on these policies, monitor their own compliance, and compensate older residents who were denied information about renting apartments.
Aaron Carr, HRI’s Executive Director, said, “Housing discrimination was banned nationwide in 1968. It’s shocking that over 50 years later so many major companies in America seem to have ignored the message when advertising apartments and homes. We’re calling on all housing companies to stop discriminating when they advertise housing opportunities on all platforms.”
Neuhtah Opiotennione said, “I’m shocked and disappointed to hear that I, along with other older residents, have been excluded from housing ads on Facebook. We deserve the same opportunity to hear about apartments as younger people.”
Peter Romer-Friedman, a Principal at Gupta Wessler PLLC and the lead attorney in major settlements over discrimination in Facebook’s advertising platform in March 2019, said “Digital discrimination is undermining equal opportunity in America. The internet did not magically transport us back into the 1950s and give companies a free license to discriminate.”
Matthew Handley, a Partner at Handley Farah & Anderson LLP, said, “Purposefully denying information about housing opportunities based on a person’s age is precisely the type of conduct local fair housing law is designed to prevent. We hope that this enforcement action will ensure that the housing industry corrects its behavior and welcomes all persons into their communities.”
A copy of the complaint can be found HERE.
For more information about the class action lawsuit, Housing Rights Initiative v. Bozzuto Mgt. Co. et al. (D. Md.), please contact Matthew Handley at 202-559-2411, or [email protected] or Peter Romer-Friedman at 718-938-6132 or [email protected].