NAACP Says Georgia City Discriminates in Provision of Utility Services

ATLANTA, Ga. (CN) – The NAACP claims in court that officials in LaGrange, Georgia, are enforcing unlawful policies that prevent minorities and immigrants from obtaining city utility services.

In a lawsuit filed May 18 in Atlanta, the civil rights organization and a number of LaGrange residents say the actions of city officials clearly violate the Fair Housing Act.

As described in the lawsuit, the city has two municipal policies that “restrict access to vital utility services including electricity, gas, and water, making it difficult or impossible for some of the City’s most economically disadvantaged residents to live in LaGrange.”

The plaintiffs go on to claim these policies disproportionately harm blacks and Latinos.

According to the lawsuit, the first policy make people pay outstanding utility bill debts before they’re able to sign up for utility service in the area.

Additionally, if they owe any outstanding debts to the city, such as debts to the courthouse, their utility services will be cut off without any notice, the plaintiffs claim.

The NAACP says this policy disproportionately affects blacks because they’re overrepresented in the court system, and thus the court debt provision applies more to them than to members of other ethnic groups.

“There are enough collateral consequences stemming from a criminal conviction. Losing your water or heat shouldn’t be one of them,” said Atteeyah Hollie, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights. “Nor should a child be at risk of losing basic utility access because of a parent’s unpaid traffic ticket.”

The second allegedly discriminatory policy complained of in the lawsuit requires people seeking utility services to provide a social security number and a government issued photo ID, which restricts many immigrants because they are “categorically ineligible to obtain” those items, the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say they’ve told the mayor and other city officials that the policies discriminate, but so far, LaGrange has yet to change or abandon them.

A representative of the city did not respond to a call from Courthouse News seeking comment.

Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director with plaintiff Project South, told Courthouse News this is just one example of the routine discrimination that occurs on a daily basis in Georgia.

“Immigrants in Georgia face various types of discrimination that have been fought in court from ‘show me your papers’ laws, to the ban on equal access to higher education for undocumented students, to denying access to utilities to undocumented people in LaGrange,” Shahshahani said.

The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as damages to be determined at trial.

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