Virginia’s HB 2161 adds military status for property, labor


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A new Virginia law extends state bans on discrimination in residential real estate transactions and in employment against the military.

HB 2161 adds “military status” to the list of categories of individuals protected under the Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA), as well as to the list of categories protected under the Virginia Fair Housing Law. Previously, these laws only protected those who served in the military on the basis of their “veteran status”. The term “military status” is broader, protecting a broader class of individuals from discrimination in both housing and employment.

HB 2161 defines “military status” by referring to sections of the United States Code. People with “military status” include:

  1. Members of the armed forces (army, navy, air force, marine corps, space force and coast guard);

  2. Members of the Reserve;

  3. The Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;

  4. The commissioned body of the Public Health Service;

  5. Veterans of active military, naval, air or space services who have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable; and

  6. Dependents of a service member, such as the service member’s spouse and children.

All Commonwealth employers should be aware of the extensive protections afforded to persons with military status under the VHRA. The enactment has additional significance for the real estate industry, however, as it makes the same changes to Virginia Fair Housing Law. The same groups of people with the above “military status” are also protected by the Virginia Fair Housing Law, which prohibits “discriminatory practices in residential housing by any person or group of people.”

The Fair Housing Act prohibits any “person” from engaging in discriminatory behavior and defines the term “person” broadly. A “person” under the Fair Housing Act can include “one or more persons, men or women, companies, partnerships, associations, labor organizations, fair housing organizations, advocacy organizations civic organizations, government entities, legal representatives, mutual societies, corporations, trusts, unincorporated organizations, trustees, bankruptcy trustees, receivers and trustees. Individuals and businesses, including independent contractors, can be held responsible for discriminatory housing practices in Virginia.

Real estate sales and leasing brokers and agents – and the entities that engage them – should be aware of the broad categories of protected persons. Lenders, insurers, appraisers and everyone else doing residential real estate transactions should also keep the new law in mind.

Virginia Fair Housing Law allows a private cause of action for violations of the law. An action must be brought within 180 days of the conclusion of any administrative proceedings relating to a complaint or charge under the law, or two years after the occurrence or termination of an allegedly discriminatory housing practice, whichever is later. contingency. If successful, a plaintiff may recover compensatory damages, punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees and costs from the defendant (s).

The Virginia General Assembly passed other laws to prohibit discrimination and expand the rights and legal remedies of many protected categories of individuals earlier this year. (See our articles, Virginia expands protections against disability discrimination and adds protections for domestic workers, Virginia enacts overtime pay law and Virginia enacts wage theft and non-competition laws in the middle a wave of new employee protections.)

Employers and businesses hiring people to provide services, especially those in the real estate industry, should remain vigilant to ensure their policies and practices are up to date. They must ensure that their workplace manuals, related practices and employee training take into account the expanded rights and protections available to those with military status.

Jackson Lewis PC © 2021Revue nationale de droit, volume XI, number 349

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