LeGrange, Georgia, recently agreed to resolve an access to basic utility claim.
Civil rights groups in Georgia recently announced an agreement with the city of LaGrange. As part of the settlement, the city must “end policies that illegally restrict access to utility services and disproportionately affect residents of blacks and Latinos”. The lawsuit, originally filed in May 2017, argued that LaGrange, who happens to be the only basic utility provider in town, “threatened to cut utilities if residents don’t pay outstanding fines to local courts”. In addition, the lawsuit alleged that another policy “denied benefits to those unable to provide a social security number or state or federal government-issued photo ID.”
Statue of the judge; Image by Joel & Jasmin Førestbird, via Unsplash.com.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Georgia NAACP, other civil rights groups, and individual residents. According to the plaintiffs, the city’s policy “violated the federal law on fair housing, which prohibits discrimination based on race, skin color or national origin”. Commenting on the latest agreement, Marielena Hincapie, General Manager of the National Immigration Law Center, said:
“This ruling sends a clear message that this type of discriminatory and harmful policies will persist not just in LaGrange but in every city across the country. We can no longer accept the criminalization of poverty. We are grateful for our brave claimants who fought long and hard for this victory for themselves and their community. We know that when we team up to fight back, we will win. “
The National Immigration Law Center is one of the groups that sued the city. As part of the settlement, the city will repeal the “ordinance that makes access to utility services dependent on the payment of a non-pensions debt”. In addition, according to the agreement, the city will “remove existing non-utility debt from the city’s utility bills and agree not to disconnect or threaten to disconnect utilities due to non-utility debt”. The agreement continues:
“The city has also changed its requirements for utility claims to allow applicants to use additional identification documents during the process, including allowing a foreign passport for valid photo identification and a tax identification number instead of a social security number for credit checks … The city also agreed to Post written notices of the changes in English and Spanish on certain city websites and social media sites and include the notices in the first three monthly bills after the Agreement comes into effect. “
The city is also paying plaintiffs $ 450.00 to cover legal fees and other damages. Commenting on the deal on the deal, Ernest Ward, former Troup County’s NAACP president, said:
“It brings much-needed change to the Black and Brown communities of LaGrange while highlighting the systemic issues in the city. It strengthens the racial justice work that we have been doing for years and the work that remains to be done. “
Civil rights groups are settling lawsuit with Georgia City over access to utility companies
NAACP’s Georgia Conference v City of LaGrange