Justice Department Files Race Discrimination Lawsuit Against Pearl, Mississippi Property Owners and Rental Agent

The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the owners, operators and rental agent of several apartment complexes in Pearl, Mississippi, violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against African Americans based on their race.

The department’s complaint seeks relief against three owners and operators of the properties — SSM Properties LLC; Steven Maulding; and Sheila Maulding — as well as James Roe, who acted as a rental agent for the apartment complexes on behalf of the other defendants. The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center and a Charge of Discrimination issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). Testing is a simulation of a housing transaction that compares responses given by housing providers to different types of home-seekers to determine whether or not illegal discrimination is occurring.

The department’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, alleges that Roe discriminated against prospective renters on the basis of race by treating African Americans who inquired about available apartments differently and less favorably than similarly-situated white persons. The properties are:

  • Oak Manor Apartments, located at 2592 Old Country Club Road, Pearl, Miss.;
  • Pearl Manor Apartments, located at 200 George Wallace Drive, Pearl, Miss.; and
  • 468 Place Townhomes, located at 2932-34 State Highway 468, Pearl, Miss.

“More than a half century ago, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act to prohibit landlords and others from denying people the opportunity to live where they want because of their race, color, or other protected characteristics,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “Some misguided people unfortunately continue to defy this law by segregating and excluding people because of their skin color. This uncivilized and cruel discrimination hurts people; it must end, now, and the Department of Justice is determined to put a stop to it. All Americans should be free to live anywhere in the United States without regard to the color of their skin. No one’s housing choices should be limited because of race or color or by more subtle differences in the way home-seekers are treated when they ask about available properties. This department is committed to ensuring equal housing opportunities, regardless of race, including by using fair-housing testing to uncover hidden discrimination that might otherwise go undetected.”

“Treating people differently in housing based on the color of their skin is not only morally and ethically reprehensible and incompatible with American principles, but against federal law,”  said U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst of the Southern District of Mississippi. “We in the Department of Justice will always strive to ensure that justice is done and that people are treated equitably and fairly, especially when seeking and trying to access such an essential cornerstone of a free society as housing. This lawsuit is just one more step up the long staircase of liberty and justice for all.”

“A person’s race should not be a factor when searching for a place to call home,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD applauds today’s action and remains committed to working with the Justice Department to take appropriate action whenever the nation’s fair housing laws are violated.”

According to the department’s complaint, Roe encouraged white testers to rent at Pearl Manor Apartments but discouraged African-American testers from renting there, telling one African-American tester that if he rented to her at this complex, the residents would think he had “let the zoo out.” In addition, Roe told African-American testers about fewer rental units than white testers, allowed white testers to view certain apartments while not offering or allowing African-American testers the same opportunity, and imposed more stringent financial and employment criteria and inquiries on African-American testers than on white testers. The lawsuit alleges that SSM Properties and Steven and Sheila Maulding are legally responsible for Roe’s alleged discrimination because he worked as their rental agent.

Today’s lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, civil penalties against the defendants to vindicate the public interest, and a court order barring future discrimination.

Individuals who believe they or someone they know may have been discriminated against at any of these properties should contact the department toll-free at 1-833-591-0291 or by email at fairhousing@usdoj.gov. Individuals who have information about this or another matter involving alleged discrimination may submit a report online at civilrights.justice.gov.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the civil rights laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt. The complaint contains allegations of unlawful conduct. The allegations in the complaint must be proven in court.

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    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides veterans with prosthetic services to assist with their mobility, vision, and hearing needs. The proportion of prosthetics VHA provided to female veterans has been small compared to the share provided to male veterans. However, in fiscal years 2015 to 2019, this proportion grew from 6.8 percent to 7.9 percent and accounted for about $889.1 million of the $15.4 billion total cost of prosthetics. Artificial limbs comprised a relatively small number of the total prosthetics VHA provided to veterans in fiscal years 2015 to 2019; however, veterans who use artificial limbs have complex needs and are significant users of health care services. VHA provided prosthetic services to a small but growing female veteran amputee population (almost 3 percent of veteran amputees in fiscal year 2019), who were generally younger than male veteran amputees. VHA has established an individualized patient care approach in its Amputation System of Care that seeks to address the prosthetic needs of each veteran, including accounting for gender-specific factors. VHA officials said that using a standardized, multidisciplinary approach across VA medical facilities also helps them incorporate the concerns and preferences of female veterans. For example, veterans are provided care by a team that includes a physician, therapist, prosthetist (clinician who helps evaluate prosthetic needs and then designs, fabricates, fits, and adjusts artificial limbs), and other providers as needed. Female veteran amputees GAO spoke with at one VA medical facility said they were satisfied with their VHA care. They also noted a lack of commercially available prosthetic options that VHA providers can use to meet women's needs. Examples of Female Veterans' Artificial Limb Prosthetics Women are generally studied less than their male counterparts in prosthetic and amputee rehabilitation research. VHA designated prosthetics for female veterans a national research priority in 2017, and has funded eight related studies as of May 2020: four pertain to lower limb amputation, three pertain to upper limb amputation, and one pertains to wheelchairs. VHA officials noted the importance of this research priority and the ongoing challenge of recruiting study participants due to the small female veteran population. VHA researchers said they employ various tactics to address this challenge, such as using multi-site studies and recruiting participants from the non-veteran population. Women are the fastest growing veteran subpopulation, with the number of female veterans using VHA health care services increasing 29 percent from 2014 to 2019. Female veterans accounted for an estimated 10 percent of the total veteran population in fiscal year 2019. They are eligible to receive a full range of VHA health care services, including obtaining prosthetics. House Report 115-188 included a provision for GAO to review VHA's prosthetic services for female veterans. This report examines 1) trends in prosthetics provided by VHA to female veterans; 2) characteristics of the female veteran population with limb loss and how VHA provides prosthetic services to these veterans through its Amputation System of Care; and 3) VHA's research efforts and the challenges that exist in studying prosthetics for female veterans with limb loss. GAO analyzed VHA documents, as well as data from fiscal years 2015 to 2019 on prosthetics and veterans with amputations. GAO interviewed agency officials from VHA central office and officials and female veteran amputees at two VA medical facilities selected for expertise in amputation care and prosthetics research activities. In addition, GAO interviewed VHA researchers conducting studies on prosthetics for female veterans. GAO provided a draft of this report to VA. VA provided general and technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
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