Federal Law Protects Battered Women From Housing Discrimination, Court Rules
Ms. Bouley and her husband rented an apartment from the defendant, Ms. Young-Sabourin in August 2003. A few months later, Ms. Bouley was violently attacked by her husband. She fled the apartment and called the police, to obtain a restraining order and press criminal charges. Her husband eventually pled guilty to assault and subsequently never returned to the apartment. Shortly after the attack, Ms. Young-Sabourin visited Ms. Bouley to discuss the violent incident and immediately afterwards wrote a letter telling her that she and her children had to vacate the apartment in 30 days. The reason given for the eviction was the landlord's belief that the "violence that has been happening in [Ms. Bouley's] unit would continue."
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Ms. Bouley filed suit alleging sex discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act, arguing that her landlord tried to evict her when she did not conform to the landlord's gender stereotypes about battered women. Ms. Bouley and the Women's Rights Project argued that when Ms. Bouley showed anger and assertiveness and did not express concern for her husband upon his arrest, her landlord concluded that the violence in her home must be her fault, and sought to evict her. The Supreme Court has made clear that discrimination against women who don't act in a stereotypically "feminine" manner is an example of unlawful discrimination based on gender stereotype. In its ruling, the Vermont District Court indicated that these protections extend to victims of domestic violence, stating that "the timing of the eviction, as well as reasonable inferences which a jury could draw from some of the statements in the eviction letter, could lead a reasonable jury to conclude that the real reason for the defendant's actions was unlawful discrimination." This ruling is the first decision to hold that discrimination against a victim of domestic violence, if proven, constitutes sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
For further information about the case, please contact Emily Martin, Staff Attorney, ACLU Women's Rights Project, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Meris Bergquist, attorney for Quinn Bouley, Vermont Legal Aid, email@example.com.