Attorney General Ellison expands consumer-protection work with new Civil Rights Division
June 12, 2023
June 10, 2023 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that his Office has launched its first-ever dedicated Civil Rights Division that will champion the rights of Minnesota consumers who are targeted or disproportionately harmed by discrimination and fraud on the basis of race, religion, and other protected statuses. Since becoming Attorney General in 2019, Attorney General Ellison has received countless complaints from people who experienced discrimination or fraud when shopping for housing, healthcare, education, and other necessities. The new Civil Rights Division will use the Attorney General’s consumer-protection powers to fight racial, religious, sex, and ability-based injustices and ensure that all Minnesotans receive fair and dignified treatment in the marketplace. The new Division supplements the enforcement work being done by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
“We have known for decades and decades that Minnesota has some of the worst disparities in the nation, so we must apply new approaches and tools to do everything within our power to expose and correct the causes of discrimination at their roots. I’m committed to ensuring that all Minnesotans have the opportunity to obtain housing, credit, and other essential products without discrimination,” Attorney General Ellison said. “My legal career began with civil rights and obtaining justice for Minnesotans who had no one else to turn to. This new division is the result of my life-long belief that a truly level, equal playing field, where everyone can participate fairly in our markets without discrimination, is essential to ensuring that all Minnesotans and all Americans can afford their lives and live with dignity, safety, and respect.”
Minnesota law forbids discrimination against renters, home-purchasers and homeowners, students, and credit purchasers if they are members of a protected class. Characteristics that are legally protected include race, religion, national origin, sex, disability, receipt of public assistance, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Prohibited practices include discriminatory pricing of products and services, selling credit products in ways that discriminate on the basis of religion or source of income, using or selling algorithms that generate disparate impacts, redlining, preying on non-English speaking tenants — including agricultural workers — by leasing substandard or uninhabitable homes, other discriminatory violations of tenants’ rights, and predatory and unfair home sales targeted at specific religious communities.
The new Civil Rights Division builds upon the Office’s recent successes in ensuring safe housing that complies with the law. In 2022, Attorney General Ellison obtained a judgment of over $1 million from a landlord after a court found the landlord knowingly and in bad faith violated the rights of 267 families, primarily in North Minneapolis. Also, the Office recently won relief for tenants whose landlord unlawfully withheld amounts from their security deposits, obtaining $63,000 in restitution for them. The Office is currently suing HavenBrook Homes, Progress Residential, and private-equity firm Pretium Partners for failing to provide habitable housing and for disturbing lead paint in their pre-1978 homes. In addition, the Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating whether a South Minneapolis landlord violated state landlord-tenant and civil-rights laws in filing against eviction notices against largely Somali residents for utility charges they did not owe.
The Minnesota Legislature and Governor Tim Walz provided new and ongoing funding for the Civil Rights Division in the 2023–25 biennial budget recently signed by Governor Walz. The Civil Rights Division is managed by Assistant Attorney General Katherine Kelly and Deputy Attorney General Jessica Whitney.
Attorney General Ellison encourages anyone who experiences discrimination when buying a product or service to report the matter to the Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office will use the reports it receives to monitor economic injustice and discriminatory conduct. Minnesotans who have experienced other forms of discrimination outside of buying a product or service are encouraged to report their concerns to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.