HUD to Seek Comment on Whether Disparate Impact Rule is Consistent With Supreme Court Decision
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced that it will “formally seek the public’s comment on whether its 2013 Disparate Impact Regulation is consistent with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.”
As we reported previously, the regulation provides that liability may be established under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) based on a practice’s discriminatory effect (i.e., disparate impact) even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent, and that a challenged practice may still be lawful if supported by a legally sufficient justification. Under the regulation a practice has a discriminatory effect where it actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. The regulation also addresses what constitutes a legally sufficient justification for a practice, and the burdens of proof of the parties in a case asserting that a practice has a discriminatory effect under the FHA.
While the Supreme Court held in its Inclusive Communities Project opinion that disparate impact claims may be brought under the FHA, it also set forth limitations on such claims that “are necessary to protect potential defendants against abusive disparate impact claims.” In particular, the Supreme Court indicated that a disparate impact claim based upon a statistical disparity “must fail if the plaintiff cannot point to a defendant’s policy or policies causing that disparity” and that a “robust causality requirement” ensures that a mere racial imbalance, standing alone, does not establish a prima facie case of disparate impact, thereby protecting defendants “from being held liable for racial disparities they did not create.” Significantly, while the Inclusive Communities Project opinion held that liability may be established under the FHA based on disparate impact, the disparate impact claim against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs was later dismissed by the District Court based on the limitations on such impact claims prescribed by the Supreme Court in its opinion.
We have previously reported on a challenge to the HUD regulation by the American Insurance Association and National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies in the federal district court for the District of Columbia. The trade associations assert that the regulation is not consistent with the limitations on disparate impact claims set forth by the Supreme Court its Inclusive Communities Project opinion. A status conference was held on May 10, 2018, and HUD filed a notice with the court advising of its intent to solicit comment on the regulation. The upcoming HUD request for comment will provide the opportunity for the mortgage industry and other interested parties to address whether the regulation reflects the limitations set forth by the Supreme Court and other concerns with the regulation.