MMLA Succeeds in Asserting Racial Discrimination as Eviction Defense #WeAreLegalAid

Two Legal Aid clients faced termination of their tenancies and evictions from the same landlord. Both tenants have experienced long-term homelessness in the past.  Eviction would have doomed them to it again.

Joey Dobson, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), and the tenants’ case managers, suspected the landlord’s true motivations were illegal: he wanted to evict the two tenants because of their race—African American—and because one of them had reported his failure to treat the building for bed bugs.  Dobson had some circumstantial indicators of racism and retaliation, but little hard evidence.  She took a deposition of the landlord, who didn't make any overtly racist statements.  But the assumptions he made about his tenants were striking, and he lacked a good excuse for the different ways he treated another similarly-situated white tenant.

It was still a very tough case to prove in court.  Dobson was joined by supervising attorney Colleen Walbran, who recently joined MMLA. Walbran immediately plugged in her years of experience with housing discrimination, and the cases were tried back-to-back on the same day in favor of the clients. Managing attorney Luke Grundman said, “It’s the first time in recent memory that Legal Aid succeeded in asserting racial discrimination as a defense in an eviction case.”  Cheers for these undaunted lawyers! #WeAreLegalAid