Justice Department Obtains $37,000 Verdict in Disability Discrimination Case Against Montana Landlord
A federal jury in Butte, Montana recently returned a $37,343 verdict against a Bozeman, Montana landlord for charging a tenant with physical and psychiatric disabilities $1,000 to have a service animal, the Justice Department recently announced.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Butte, alleged that Jaclyn Katz, the owner and manager of rental properties in Bozeman, discriminated against Kristen Newman, a tenant with physical and psychiatric disabilities, by charging her a $1,000 deposit as a condition for allowing her to keep her service dog, Riley. At trial, Newman, her treating therapist and an independent expert testified that Riley assisted Newman in living with the symptoms of her disabilities, including providing emotional support, helping to predict migraines, and reducing suicidal thoughts. Newman also testified that she repeatedly informed Katz that charging a deposit for a service animal was illegal and that Newman understood that she would have to pay for any actual damage caused by her service dog. Nevertheless, Katz continued to levy this charge and, at one point, even threatened to terminate Newman’s tenancy. The case arose out of a complaint filed by Newman with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The verdict includes $11,043 in compensatory damages for Newman, $20,000 in punitive damages for Newman, and $6,300 for Montana Fair Housing, Inc., which assisted Newman with her fair housing complaint.
“Persons with disabilities have the right to live in and enjoy their communities, just as all families do throughout our nation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We commend the jury for recognizing that the Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating against persons with disabilities, and we will continue to work to eliminate discriminatory barriers in housing for persons with disabilities.”
“Many people with disabilities require the assistance of an animal to carry out major daily activities,” said General Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Complaints alleging disability discrimination now account for the majority of the complaints HUD receives. HUD will continue to enforce the law and educate the public on the rights of people with disabilities in housing.”
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt. Persons who believe that they have experienced unlawful housing discrimination may contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org (link sends e-mail).