On March 27, 2018, the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady (“ECBA”) filed suit in federal district court against Facebook, Inc. on behalf of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and three of its member organizations alleging that Facebook’s advertising platform enables landlords and real estate brokers to exclude families with children, women, and other protected classes of people from receiving housing ads. The lawsuit alleges that Facebook has created pre-populated lists that make it possible for its housing advertisers to “exclude” (in Facebook terminology) home seekers from viewing or receiving rental or sales ads because of protected characteristics, including family status and sex.
Plaintiffs—NFHA, New York City-based Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Miami-based Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (“HOPE”), and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio (“FHCGSA”)—created a non-existent realty firm and then prepared dozens of housing advertisements that they submitted to Facebook for review. Facebook provided Plaintiffs with specific lists of groups they could exclude from receiving the ads, including families with children, moms with children of certain ages, women or men, and other categories based on sex or family status. The investigations also revealed that Facebook provides housing advertisers with the ability to exclude certain “interest” categories from receiving ads that are disability-based (e.g., people who are interested in disabled veterans or disabled parking permits) or national origin-based (e.g., people who are interested in English as a second language).
The Complaint alleges that these practices violate the Fair Housing Act and New York City Human Rights Law and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief declaring Facebook’s conduct illegal and requiring Facebook to change its advertising platform and practices to comply with fair housing laws. The plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk, Katherine Rosenfeld, and David Berman.
Read the full complaint here.
For more information, read coverage from the New York Times, New York Daily News, Curbed, and New York Law Journal.
On February 21, 2018, the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady (ECBA) filed suit in federal district court on behalf of Alfred Spooner and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) alleging disability and source of income discrimination against Goldfarb Properties—a managing agent of over 6,000 apartments throughout New York City and its surrounding suburbs.
The lawsuit challenges Goldfarb’s practice of imposing a minimum annual income requirement on low-income, disabled, housing applicants like Mr. Spooner who use state-funded vouchers to pay the majority of their rent. After Mr. Spooner’s rental application was rejected, the FHJC sent testers posing as potential renters with rental subsidies and vouchers to the defendant’s properties to inquire about the availability of apartments. The tests revealed that Goldfarb categorically turned away these applicants even though they had the means to pay the full rent because they did not make forty-three times the rent in income—a practical impossibility for any person eligible for a disability-and-income-based voucher. The plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and David Berman.
Following ECBA’s victory in federal district court on behalf of clients the City Club of New York, Barry Diller (the billionaire backer) pulled his support for “Pier 55,” a proposed island performance venue in the Hudson River in Manhattan. This victory ensures the preservation of the estuarine sanctuary of the Hudson River as the legislature intended. The controversy could have been avoided if the Hudson River Park Trust had been candid with the Legislature and the public and done a full participatory environmental review. When an agency flouts the law by cutting corners, public-spirited citizens can and should be able to get justice in court. The real lesson of Diller Island is that the Hudson River Park Trust—like every agency that stewards precious public resources—should rededicate itself to core principles of openness, transparency, and conservation. The decision to end the project was covered by the New York Times and New York Daily News, among others.
ECBA lawyers Richard Emery, Elizabeth Saylor, Doug Lieb, and David Berman represent the City Club, as well as the other petitioners. Read more about ECBA’s work on this project here, here, and here.