What happens if management posts an on line advertisement for housing with a website provider if the content of that advertisement possibly contains a discriminatory preference or a limitation based on a protected class? Two recent cases provide important guidance.
In Chicago Lawyers Comm. For Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. v. Craigslist, Inc., 519 F.3d 666 (7th Cir. 2008) the court issued a decision impacting how the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) interacts with the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). Specifically, can a website operator be held liable for a FHA violation because of allegedly discriminatory statements in an online advertisement for housing? In this case, the appellate panel concluded that the CDA protects website operators and was not subject to the FHA since it did not post the statements or cause them to be posted.
On facts with a slight – but significant – difference, in Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, Inc. v. Roommates.com, LLC, 521 F.3d 1157 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc), the court held that Roommates.com violated the FHA by contributing to the creation or development of discriminatory statements and advertisements on its web site. While the Ninth Circuit agreed with the Seventh Circuit that websites are protected from FHA liability based on advertising content provided by others, because Roommates.com required advertisers to fill in a questionnaire stating their preferences and by directing them to other advertisers whose preferences matched their own, the court held that Roommates.com was not entitled to immunity under the CDA and would be subject to FHA liability.
As is always the case in these circumstances, when you use any online advertisement for housing: follow the anti-discrimination provisions in the FHA so you will not need to have an appellate court review your ad.
Just A Thought.