Article Preview, Editor Blog

Article Preview: “Mature Person Preferred”

Contributing Editor: John Mara
The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 with the purpose of outlawing discrimination by a property owner when renting or selling a dwelling based on “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Section 3604(c) of the Fair Housing Act, which deals specifically with discriminatory advertising practices, prohibits housing advertisements through any medium that show “any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Since the passage of that act, applying section 3604(c) has become more difficult due to issues such as internet advertising and First Amendment challenges. This Note examines the federal court system’s interpretation of section 3604(c) of the Fair Housing Act. To determine whether an advertisement has violated section 3604(c), the courts use the “ordinary reader” test to determine whether an “ordinary reader would understand an advertisement to suggest a preference for or against a protected group.” In Ragin v. New York Times Company, the Second Circuit interpreted the term “preference” to mean “any ad that would discourage an ordinary reader of a particular race.” The Seventh Circuit also equated the word “preference” with discouraging an ordinary reader in Jancik v. Department of Housing & Urban Development. However, in Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Inc. v. Connor Group, the Sixth Circuit declined to follow the Second and Seventh Circuits, ruling that the terms “preference” and “discourage” are not synonymous, and therefore the ordinary reader standard should apply any time an ordinary reader would believe an advertisement indicates a preference. These three decisions created a circuit split on the issue of whether the ordinary reader test applies to advertisements that discourage readers, or merely show a preference.