For Immediate Release - February 02, 2010

Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office Obtains Consent Judgment Against Berkshire County Newspaper for Alleged Publication of Discriminatory Housing Advertisements

PITTSFIELD - Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office obtained a consent judgment against Shopper's Guide newspaper of Great Barrington, MA, resolving allegations that Shopper's Guide published over 100 rental property advertisements that violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The consent judgment, entered yesterday by Berkshire Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini provides a broad range of relief and preventive measures to ensure Shopper's Guide's future compliance with state and federal fair housing laws.

"Housing discrimination continues to be a serious problem in Massachusetts and the laws prohibiting the publication of discriminatory housing advertisements are in place to ensure that all persons have equal access to housing opportunities," said Attorney General Coakley. "It is against the law for newspapers to publish discriminatory advertisements. By enforcing fair housing laws, our office works to ensure that the welcome mat is not unlawfully pulled from prospective renters and purchasers."

The Commonwealth's complaint, filed January 29, 2010, alleges that from January 2007 to mid-September 2009, Shopper's Guide published approximately 146 housing advertisements, both print and online, that unlawfully discriminated based on family status, sex, marital status, receipt of public housing assistance, and disability. This matter was initiated at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination by the Housing Discrimination Project of Holyoke, MA.

Under state and federal law, it is illegal to make statements regarding the rental or sale of property that state a preference, limitation or discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, genetic information, ancestry, children, marital status, public assistance recipiency or handicap. This prohibition applies to property owners who place advertisements for the rental or sale of real estate in newspapers as well as to the newspapers that publish the unlawful advertisements.

The consent judgment prohibits Shopper's Guide from future publication of unlawful real estate advertisements. The consent judgment requires Shopper's Guide to pay a total of $15,000 to the Commonwealth and the Housing Discrimination Project of Holyoke. In addition, Shopper's Guide must provide annual fair housing trainings for Shopper's Guide staff, $30,000 of free advertising space to the Housing Discrimination Project, and adopt appropriate screening- mechanisms to ensure that discriminatory advertisements are not published. Additionally, Shopper's Guide will sponsor a community fair housing training that will be open to the general public.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Laurie A. Frankl of Attorney General Coakley's Civil Rights and Western Massachusetts Divisions.

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