The FirmRelman, Dane & Colfax is a civil rights law firm based in Washington, D.C., with additional offices in Ohio and New Mexico. We litigate civil rights cases in the areas of housing, lending, employment, public accommodations, education, and police accountability. Our national practice includes individual and class action lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs who have suffered discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, national origin, color, religion, sex, disability, age, familial status, source of income, and sexual orientation.
The firm also provides legal counsel to progressive companies that demonstrate a commitment to best practices in the way they conduct business. Such counsel includes representation of financial institutions in reporting to their regulators on fair lending and fair servicing issues. We conduct investigations and provide counseling regarding consumer protection, privacy, lending, employment, whistleblower, and federal regulatory matters. Our practice also includes analysis and strategy regarding public policy issues and proposed legislation affecting civil rights.
In the News
Relman, Dane & Colfax Secures Landmark Accessible Housing Settlement with City of Los Angeles
On August 30, the Los Angeles City Council agreed to settle litigation brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by three nonprofit disability and fair housing advocacy groups that had claimed the City’s housing programs were inaccessible to people with disabilities. The agreement, which is the largest of its kind in the country, provides that, over the next 10 years, the City will ensure that at least 4,000 of its affordable housing units meet architectural standards required by the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). Those UFAS standards require substantially greater accessibility than the Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines; for instance, UFAS requires accessible roll-in or transfer showers, much larger maneuvering clearances at doors, lowered kitchen counters and greater access to appliances, and grab bars must be pre-installed in bathrooms. To read more and review the Judgment and Settlement Agreement click here.
Relman, Dane & Colfax Files Federal Lawsuit Against Wisconsin School District Challenging Discrimination Against Transgender Student
On July 19, 2016, Relman, Dane & Colfax and Transgender Law Center (TLC) filed a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of Wisconsin against the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) on behalf of Ashton (Ash) Whitaker, a transgender boy. KUSD has denied Ash access to boys’ restrooms at his high school, subjected him to daily surveillance over this restroom use, and threatened him with disciplinary action if he continued using the boys’ restrooms. To read the Complaint and Press Coverage click here.
Relman, Dane & Colfax Wins Important ADA Appellate Ruling
On July 12, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Octapharma Plasma, Inc., and other plasma donation centers are public accommodations subject to the non-discrimination requirements of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The decision, the first on this issue by a federal appellate court, rejected the multi-billion dollar plasma industry’s position that its members may freely discriminate against people with disabilities. To read more click here.
Relman, Dane & Colfax Files Discrimination Complaint Against Travelers Insurance
On May 17, 2016, Relman, Dane & Colfax filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) against Travelers Insurance Company, alleging that its denial of “habitational” insurance to apartment owners whose tenants are subsidized through the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program amounts to discrimination on the basis of race, sex and source of income. The lawsuit is the result of multiple investigations by NFHA that uncovered evidence of Travelers’ discriminatory practices in the District. To read more and review the Complaint click here.
Relman, Dane & Colfax Files Race and Familial Status Discrimination Case Against Chicago Suburb
On April 19, 2016, Relman, Dane & Colfax filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of Buckeye Community Hope Foundation (“Buckeye”), a non-profit affordable housing developer, challenging the Village of Tinley Park’s obstruction of Buckeye’s efforts to build a multi-family affordable housing development. Tinley Park, which is thirty miles southwest of Chicago, is just 3.6 percent African American, but a much larger percentage of the neighboring population that is eligible for affordable housing is African American. To read more and review the Complaint click here.
HUD Guidance Says Blanket Criminal History Bans Violate Fair Housing Act, Supporting Firm’s Claims in Fortune Society Litigation
On April 4, 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued new guidance stating that blanket bans on applicants with criminal histories likely violate the Fair Housing Act. Without an individualized assessment of each applicant’s circumstances, HUD says that such bans are likely to have a harsher, unjustified effect on people of color, who are more likely to have come into contact with the criminal justice system. The HUD guidance also makes clear that landlords cannot use mere arrests to deny applications. To read the Complaint, Guidance and Press Coverage click here.
Jury Awards $687,000 in Race Discrimination Case
On January 20, 2016, a jury in D.C. federal court found that Plaintiff Briggitta Hardin was unlawfully denied a bartending position at a Chinatown bar because she is African-American, and awarded her $175,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $512,000 in punitive damages. Click here to read more.
Sapelo Island Descendants of Slaves File Discrimination Lawsuit
Fifty-seven Sapelo Island property owners and other residents and two community organizations – Help Org Inc. and Raccoon Hogg Community Development Corporation – filed on December 9, 2015 a federal race discrimination lawsuit against McIntosh County, the state of Georgia, and the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority (SIHA). The families are descendants of Gullah-Geechee slaves who lived on the Georgia barrier island as far back as the 18th century. The lawsuit alleges that the county, state, and SIHA are engaged in a policy designed to make plaintiffs’ lives so uncomfortable that they abandon their homes and their land. “These actions are destroying the last intact Gullah-Geechee community in the country,” said Reed Colfax, the plaintiffs’ attorney and a partner in the civil rights law firm, Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC. “The county and state are depriving our clients of basic municipal services, limiting their access to their lands. In addition, the county tried to dramatically increase their taxes in an effort to force them off Sapelo Island, which their families have known as home for generations.” To read the Complaint click here and Press Release click here.
Second Circuit Holds That Obtaining Housing Is a Major Life Activity Under the Fair Housing Act
In a case of first impression in the circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has held that obtaining housing is a “major life activity” under the disability provisions of the Fair Housing Act. The court held that if a person’s impairments limit her ability to live in a broad class of housing, she has established that she is a person with disabilities. The Second Circuit is only the second court of appeals to find that obtaining housing is a major life activity, and this holding represents a great victory for all people who seek to live in the housing of their choice, regardless of their actual or perceived disabilities. The court also held that, for purposes of surviving summary judgment, non-medical evidence may be sufficient in a Fair Housing Act case to show that an impairment is substantially limiting. Thus, courts must give proper credence to the testimony of parents, teachers, and other persons who are familiar with a person with disabilities. To read more about the case and the Court’s Opinion, click here.
Federal Court Allows Fair Housing Claims Against Property Insurer to Proceed
On June 23, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut denied a motion to dismiss discrimination claims filed against American Empire Surplus Lines Insurance Company by two landlords and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center. The case alleges violations of Connecticut state law based on “source of income,” and violations of both Connecticut state law and the federal Fair Housing Act based on a “disparate impact” theory of liability. The defendant, a surplus lines insurer operating in Connecticut, allegedly restricts the availability of property/casualty insurance to landlords based on their renting to “Section 8” tenants. The court addressed issues raised in the motion to dismiss, including coverage of insurance under Section 805 of the Fair Housing Act, deference to HUD regulations, and McCarran-Ferguson pre-emption. A copy of the decision is available here. To read more about the case, click here.
Deaf Plaintiffs Settle Effective Communication Case Against D.C. Housing Authority; Secure Monetary Relief of $350,000
On February 28, 2015, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a settlement agreement requiring the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) to revamp its policy for providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and other aids to ensure that people with hearing impairments can secure equal access to DCHA programs, like the Housing Choice Voucher and public housing. The agreement also requires DCHA to pay $350,000 in monetary relief. To read more and review the Complaint and Stipulation of Settlement, click here.
Relman, Dane & Colfax and Department of Justice Settle Housing Discrimination Claims for $850,000
Plaintiffs in a major housing discrimination case against an Akron-Canton, Ohio area landlord have settled their claims for $850,000 and extensive injunctive relief. The Plaintiffs had filed the case under the federal and Ohio fair housing laws alleging that John Ruth, who owns and operates more than one hundred apartments in the Northeast, Ohio area, regularly discriminated against both African Americans and families with children. To read more and review the Proposed Consent Order click here.
Court of Appeals Upholds Class Certification in Race Discrimination Case Against Secret Service
On August 1, 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held unanimously that race discrimination claims against the U.S. Secret Service may proceed as a class action. Judge Douglas Ginsburg, writing for the appeals court, rejected various attempts by the Secret Service to challenge the District Court’s 2013 opinion granting class certification. Click here to read more.