Appeals court upholds verdict awarding $74,400 in damages to victims of St. Louis landlord’s discrimination

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has affirmed a jury verdict against a St. Louis, Missouri landlord for violating the federal Fair Housing Act by evicting a family because of the birth of their second child.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits terminating a lease, evicting tenants or refusing to sell or rent because of race, color, religion, familial status, or national origin. 

After their eviction in 2017, Laura Erwin and Mack Teal filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).  HUD conducted an investigation, issued a charge of discrimination against Rupp and referred the case to the Justice Department, which filed suit in 2019.   

On May 28, 2021, U.S. District Judge Sarah E. Pitlyk ruled in response to motions for summary judgment that Louis A. Rupp II’s conduct violated the Fair Housing Act.  On Aug. 19, 2021, a jury awarded the family of Laura Erwin and Mack Teal a total of $74,400 in damages, consisting of $14,400 in compensatory damages and $60,000 in punitive damages.

“The Rupp case shows how victims of civil rights violations in this district can find redress through the nation’s civil rights laws,” said U.S. Attorney Sayler Fleming. “Ms. Irwin knew something was wrong when Rupp evicted her and her family from their home, conducted her own research under the housing laws, and decided to challenge his actions. In the end, the appeals court agreed with Ms. Irwin and her family that Rupp’s conduct was ‘reprehensible’ for evicting them shortly after Ms. Irwin’s emergency C-section. The court also ruled that punitive damages were appropriate because Rupp, a long-time landlord, showed ‘indifference to or reckless disregard of’ the housing laws and the Irwin family’s health and safety.”

The court also ruled that the size of the award did not violate Rupp’s constitutional right to due process of law. 

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