Huntsville Utilities, HUD Settle Discrimination Allegations
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – A settlement was revealed Thursday regarding a discrimination complaint against Huntsville Utilities. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development accused the utility of making it harder for Hispanic customers to get electricity in their homes. Huntsville Utilities denies the allegation but says a settlement was simply in everyone’s best interests.
The complaint was filed last year following two test calls made by the Fair Housing Center of North Alabama, an agency funded by HUD. One of the callers had a Hispanic accent and was given a different set of instructions than a non-Hispanic sounding caller. The Hispanic caller was told they would have to appear in person at Huntsville Utilities main office to arrange for electric service. The other caller was given the option of applying for service on-line.
Huntsville Utilities’ Chief Operating Officer Jay Stowe said, “HUD took that information and started an investigation to determine whether or not there was any discrimination and as they went through that process we determined that it made sense for us to move forward with a settlement because a long, lengthy, drawn-out investigation would have been expensive.”
Stowe went on to say Huntsville Utilities does not discriminate against anyone and entered into the agreement voluntarily. He says they wanted to demonstrate their commitment to equal access for everyone.
“Equal access to utility services is fundamental to fair housing,” says John Trasvina, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. He adds, “We are pleased that Huntsville Utilities is now working with HUD to remove any unnecessary barriers.”
The key provisions of the agreement include:
- · The adoption of a Limited English Proficiency Plan,
- · The placement of a non-discrimination statement on advertisements,
- · Additional training on the Fair Housing Act for employees, and
- · Huntsville Utilities will provide copies of their Customer Service Policies to HUD.
Huntsville Utilities has also agreed to make a $5,000 donation to a local, non-profit organization that serves the Latino community. They have yet to decide which agency will receive the money. The utility also says they will test employees periodically to make certain they remain in compliance with the Fair Housing Act statutes.