Protected Classes: What Are They and What Do They mean?
June 1, 2009
From 1964 until 1989 it was illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Even so if you did discriminate, the law didn’t have much bite to it. In 1989 that changed. Two more protected classes were added to federal law and the law got some fangs.
Now you can be fined up to $50,000 for discrimination. In addition to that the law was changed to encourage people to file complaints. Most of the fines collected go to the “aggrieved” parties. It has the potential to be a big moneymaker, encouraging people who have been irritated by a landlord or apartment manager to say they were treated differently because they are black, have children, are blind, rather than just chalking up the attitude of the landlord or manager to general rudeness.
Here’s what those classes are:
Obviously race refers to whether someone is Caucasian, African-American, American Indian, or Pacific Islander.
Less clear is national origin. A person can be white, but be Hispanic.
Refers to a person’s complexion, how light, dark or in between it is. The reason for color’s inclusion is similar to that of national origin.
The only time discrimination on the basis of religion is permissible is in the case of a property that caters exclusively to people of a specific religion.
This has to do with whether someone is married, single, divorced, separated or any other combination or permutation of those you can think of.
Sex (or Gender)
Has to do with being either male or female, but does not include sexual orientation (homosexuality or heterosexuality), which is covered under separate, usually local, ordinances.
The two added classes are handicap and familial status. Understanding what the federal government means by these two classes will give you a pretty good understanding of who is protected.
Handicap means a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Normally you think of physically handicapped people, such as the blind, deaf, or wheelchair-bound as falling under that definition, and they do. But also included are recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, people with the AIDS or the HIV virus, and people with speaking, learning or working impairments.
You have no obligation to rent to someone who is a direct threat to the health, safety or property of others, as evi- denced by current or past activities. But assume that the burden of proof is on you to show by evidence from landlord and/or other references or sources that they are, and could be expected to be, a danger to the property or others.
This class has probably been the big- gest source of problems for landlords. What this boils down to is that a tenant has someone living with him and/or her who is under 18. It also includes preg- nant women and a person who is trying to adopt a child.