Ethiopian Woman Unlawfully Denied Housing Because Of Her National Origin Files Lawsuit Against Housing Provider

WASHINGTON, DCWhile pregnant with her second child, Melikt Mengiste, a District of Columbia resident of Ethiopian origin, was denied housing by the 1901-07 15th Street, N.W., Cooperative Association (the “Cooperative”). Despite being pre-approved for housing by the property management company and complying with all of the application requirements, including producing additional documentation outside of the usual process, the Cooperative and its president denied Ms. Mengiste an interview and ultimately, the opportunity to move into a unit of suitable size for her growing family.

While Ms. Mengiste’s housing application was pending, she also endured a series of disparaging statements from staff of the Cooperative that were made about her and other people of Ethiopian national origin which were intended to convey that persons of her national origin were not welcomed in the Cooperative community. As a result of being denied housing by the Cooperative, Ms. Mengiste suffered a period of at least eight months of severe emotional and physical distress while pregnant and shortly after the birth of her second child. Moreover, because she was denied the opportunity to move into a larger unit at the Cooperative, Ms. Mengiste was forced to continue residing in a cramped and unsuitable studio apartment with her husband, sister, young son, and two children for over nine months.

Today Ms. Mengiste filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the Cooperative for violations of her civil rights. The complaint raises claims of national origin discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act

“The denial of housing to Ms. Mengiste not only violates the law, but is contrary to the values of our community. We applaud her courage in standing up against discrimination and ensuring that the right to live in diverse communities is protected,” said Jonathan Smith, Executive Director for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which is serving as counsel to Ms. Mengiste.

“Ms. Mengiste’s experience of being denied housing on the basis of her national origin is but one example of the types of discriminatory and harassing treatment faced by members of the District’s immigrant community. Such invidious treatment runs contrary to the spirit of our fair housing laws which secure an equal right to housing for all members of our community,” added Adam Chud, a partner at the law firm of Goodwin Procter LLP, which is also representing Ms. Mengiste.

Ms. Mengiste is represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and Goodwin.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.

Media Highlights:
Washington CityPaper (February 6, 2017)

Media Contact:

Matthew Handley, Director of Litigation
(202) 319-1000

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