Civil Justice Clinic helps break new ground with settlement of federal discrimination complaint
Duke Law's Civil Justice Clinic and Legal Aid of North Carolina broke new ground recently when they settled a federal discrimination complaint filed against the Raleigh Housing Authority on behalf of a public housing tenant who was a victim of domestic violence.
Duke Law School’s Civil Justice Clinic and Legal Aid of North Carolina recently settled a federal discrimination complaint filed against the Raleigh Housing Authority (RHA) on behalf of a public housing tenant who was a victim of domestic violence.
The settlement includes a Federal Consent Decree believed to be the first in the country to address a landlord’s obligations under the Federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which requires housing authorities to provide specific housing protections for tenants who are victims of domestic violence. The tenant was the victim of multiple crimes at her housing unit, including violence perpetrated by an ex-boyfriend who strangled her; a home intruder who threatened her guest at gunpoint; and armed men who shot bullets into her apartment.
In the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in 2018, the tenant alleged that RHA violated VAWA and the Federal Fair Housing Act by denying her repeated requests for an emergency transfer to a safe location. The resolution includes entry of a permanent mandatory injunction against the RHA and relocation of the family to a new housing unit at a confidential location.
“We are very pleased with the results for our client and her children, and we hope that this consent decree will serve to highlight to public housing authorities across the country their obligations to comply with VAWA and fair housing laws,” said Clinical Professor Charles Holton ’73, director of the Civil Justice Clinic, who served as co-counsel in the case.
Eight clinic students have assisted with litigation on behalf of the tenant over the past two-and-a-half years, most recently Hannah Elson ’20, Charles White ’20, and Katarina Weessies ’21, who are currently enrolled. Clinic students assisted with preparation of pleadings, briefing and preparing for multiple motion hearings, preparation of and responding to extensive written discovery, taking depositions, and conducting mediations.
The Federal Consent Decree requires RHA to:
- provide tenants who are facing eviction with written notice of their rights under VAWA, (consistent with its goal of ensuring that victims of domestic violence do not face eviction as a result of the abuse);
- provide tenants who are denied admission to RHA with written notice of their rights under VAWA (consistent with its goal of ensuring that victims of domestic violence — who may have poor credit histories, prior evictions, and criminal charges related to the abuse — are not denied housing as a result);
- make emergency transfer request forms and the RHA’s emergency transfer plan available and accessible to all tenants;
- assign a current RHA employee as a point person to answer questions about VAWA’s housing protections;
- provide regular, mandatory training on the Fair Housing Act for all property managers and employees involved in lease intake, transfer decisions and lease termination decisions;
- provide regular, mandatory training on VAWA and domestic violence for all property managers and employees involved in lease intake, transfer decisions and lease termination decisions;
- send a letter to public housing tenants each year soliciting feedback on all aspects of the housing authority, including its employees;
- provide documentation to Legal Aid of North Carolina for three consecutive years demonstrating RHA’s compliance with the consent decree.
In addition to the federal action, the clinic also represented the client in two separate lawsuits filed in N.C. Superior Court, Holton said. Those lawsuits sought personal injury damages on behalf of the client and her teenage daughter against both the RHA and two individual supervisors, temporary and permanent injunctive relief against RHA regarding compliance with VAWA, breach of lease claims, and defense from eviction efforts by RHA against the mother. The clinic also represented the client in one interlocutory appeal to the N.C. Court of Appeals regarding sovereign immunity issues.