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11.04.2020

Relman Colfax is pleased to announce the settlement of litigation alleging that the municipal utility service policies of the City of LaGrange, Georgia, discriminated on the basis of race and national origin.

In May 2017, together with the Southern Center for Human Rights and the National Immigration Law Center, the Firm brought Fair Housing Act claims on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Troup County Branch of the NAACP, Project South, and a number of affected individuals, challenging policies conditioning utility services on the payment of unrelated court debt and requiring utility applicants to have a Social Security number. The complaint alleged that the policies had an unjustifiable harsher impact on African Americans and Latinos in part because the City is the sole supplier of electricity, gas, and water for residents. The plaintiffs also asserted that these policies limited their choice of housing, made it harder to become homeowners, and perpetuated segregation in LaGrange. The settlement, consummated in late October, provides for repeal of the offending policies, public notice to City residents, and the payment of $450,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.

During the course of the litigation, the Firm and co-counsel secured an important decision in October 2019 from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which—in reversing the trial court’s grant of a motion to dismiss—held that the Fair Housing Act clearly prohibits discriminatory utility policies when they are “closely tied to the sale or rental of a dwelling, and … essential to the habitability of a dwelling,” even if they occur after a plaintiff has acquired housing.

The Relman Colfax litigation team included Reed Colfax, Alexa Milton, Isabel Tessier, and Isabelle Charo.

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