Web Site May Be Sued For Housing Bias, Court Rules

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Roommates.com is not entitled to immunity under the Communications Decency Act for the discriminatory housing preferences of its users, the 9th Circuit ruled. more




     The roommate-matching service requires users to create profiles listing their gender, sexual orientation and whether they have children. They are then asked to describe the preferences in roommates using the same three criteria: gender, orientation and family status. The site also encourages users to fill out an “additional comments” section describing themselves and their desired roommate.
     Once their profiles are established, users can browse other profiles and send emails. For a fee, they can receive periodic emails from Roommate.com alerting them of available housing or roommates that match their preferences.
     The Fair Housing Councils of the San Fernando Valley and San Diego filed a federal lawsuit claiming the business violates the Fair Housing Act and California’s housing discrimination laws.
     The case resembles a lawsuit against online classified site Craigslist, which the 7th Circuit dismissed on grounds that Craigslist’s role as an Internet service provider makes it immune from third-party postings. The key difference between Craigslist and Roommate.com, the 9th Circuit notes, is that Roommate.com requires users to supply discriminatory information, thus fulfilling the role of an “information content provider.”
     “Not only does Roommate ask these questions, Roommate makes answering the discriminatory questions a condition of doing business,” Judge Kozinski wrote in the 8-3 decision. “The CDA does not grant immunity for inducing third parties to express illegal preferences.”
     The judges remanded for the lower court to decide whether Roommate also violates the Fair Housing Act.
     The dissent, written by Judge McKeown, argues that the majority’s “unprecedented expansion of liability for Internet service providers threatens to chill the robust development of the Internet that Congress envisioned.”

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