Florida Senate - 2020                                     SB 374
       By Senator Rouson
       19-00605-20                                            2020374__
    1                        A bill to be entitled                      
    2         An act relating to housing discrimination; amending s.
    3         760.07, F.S.; removing housing discrimination as a
    4         cause of action for certain relief and damages
    5         stemming from violations of the Florida Civil Rights
    6         Act of 1992; amending s. 760.34, F.S.; revising the
    7         conditions under which an aggrieved person may
    8         commence a civil action in any appropriate court
    9         against a specified respondent to enforce specified
   10         rights; providing that the aggrieved person does not
   11         need to pursue certain other remedies before
   12         commencing a civil action; making technical changes;
   13         amending s. 760.35, F.S.; authorizing, rather than
   14         requiring, a civil action to commence within a
   15         specified period after an alleged discriminatory
   16         housing practice; authorizing an aggrieved person to
   17         commence a civil action regardless of certain
   18         circumstances; prohibiting an aggrieved person from
   19         filing a specified action in certain circumstances;
   20         providing an exception; prohibiting an aggrieved
   21         person from commencing a specified civil action if an
   22         administrative law judge has commenced a hearing on
   23         the record on the allegation; making technical
   24         changes; providing an effective date.
   26  Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
   28         Section 1. Section 760.07, Florida Statutes, is amended to
   29  read:
   30         760.07 Remedies for unlawful discrimination.—Any violation
   31  of any Florida statute that makes making unlawful discrimination
   32  because of race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, national
   33  origin, age, handicap, or marital status in the areas of
   34  education, employment, housing, or public accommodations gives
   35  rise to a cause of action for all relief and damages described
   36  in s. 760.11(5), unless greater damages are expressly provided
   37  for. If the statute prohibiting unlawful discrimination provides
   38  an administrative remedy, the action for equitable relief and
   39  damages provided for in this section may be initiated only after
   40  the plaintiff has exhausted his or her administrative remedy.
   41  The term “public accommodations” does not include lodge halls or
   42  other similar facilities of private organizations which are made
   43  available for public use occasionally or periodically. The right
   44  to trial by jury is preserved in any case in which the plaintiff
   45  is seeking actual or punitive damages.
   46         Section 2. Section 760.34, Florida Statutes, is amended to
   47  read:
   48         760.34 Enforcement.—
   49         (1) Any person who claims to have been injured by a
   50  discriminatory housing practice or who believes that he or she
   51  will be injured by a discriminatory housing practice that is
   52  about to occur may file a complaint with the commission.
   53  Complaints shall be in writing and shall contain such
   54  information and be in such form as the commission requires. Upon
   55  receipt of such a complaint, the commission shall furnish a copy
   56  to the person or persons who allegedly committed the
   57  discriminatory housing practice or are about to commit the
   58  alleged discriminatory housing practice. Within 100 days after
   59  receiving a complaint, or within 100 days after the expiration
   60  of any period of reference under subsection (3), the commission
   61  shall investigate the complaint and give notice in writing to
   62  the aggrieved person aggrieved whether it intends to resolve it.
   63  If the commission decides to resolve the complaint, it shall
   64  proceed to try to eliminate or correct the alleged
   65  discriminatory housing practice by informal methods of
   66  conference, conciliation, and persuasion. Insofar as possible,
   67  conciliation meetings shall be held in the cities or other
   68  localities where the discriminatory housing practices allegedly
   69  occurred. Nothing said or done in the course of such informal
   70  endeavors may be made public or used as evidence in a subsequent
   71  proceeding under ss. 760.20-760.37 without the written consent
   72  of the persons concerned. Any employee of the commission who
   73  makes public any information in violation of this provision is
   74  guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as
   75  provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
   76         (2) Any person who files a complaint under subsection (1)
   77  must do so be filed within 1 year after the alleged
   78  discriminatory housing practice occurred. The complaint must be
   79  in writing and shall state the facts upon which the allegations
   80  of a discriminatory housing practice are based. A complaint may
   81  be reasonably and fairly amended at any time. A respondent may
   82  file an answer to the complaint against him or her and, with the
   83  leave of the commission, which shall be granted whenever it
   84  would be reasonable and fair to do so, may amend his or her
   85  answer at any time. Both the complaint and the answer must shall
   86  be verified.
   87         (3) If Wherever a local fair housing law provides rights
   88  and remedies for alleged discriminatory housing practices which
   89  are substantially equivalent to the rights and remedies provided
   90  in ss. 760.20-760.37, the commission shall notify the
   91  appropriate local agency of any complaint filed under ss.
   92  760.20-760.37 which appears to constitute a violation of the
   93  local fair housing law, and the commission shall take no further
   94  action with respect to such complaint if the local law
   95  enforcement official has, within 30 days after from the date the
   96  alleged offense was brought to his or her attention, commenced
   97  proceedings in the matter. In no event shall the commission take
   98  further action unless it certifies that in its judgment, under
   99  the circumstances of the particular case, the protection of the
  100  rights of the parties or the interests of justice require such
  101  action.
  102         (4) If, within 180 days after a complaint is filed with the
  103  commission or within 180 days after expiration of any period of
  104  reference under subsection (3), the commission has been unable
  105  to obtain voluntary compliance with ss. 760.20-760.37, The
  106  aggrieved person aggrieved may commence a civil action in any
  107  appropriate court against the respondent named in the complaint
  108  or petition for an administrative determination under pursuant
  109  to s. 760.35 to enforce the rights granted or protected by ss.
  110  760.20-760.37 and is not required to petition for an
  111  administrative hearing or exhaust administrative remedies before
  112  commencing such action. If, as a result of its investigation
  113  under subsection (1), the commission finds there is reasonable
  114  cause to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has
  115  occurred, at the request of the aggrieved person aggrieved, the
  116  Attorney General may bring an action in the name of the state on
  117  behalf of the aggrieved person to enforce the provisions of ss.
  118  760.20-760.37.
  119         (5) In any proceeding brought under pursuant to this
  120  section or s. 760.35, the burden of proof is on the complainant.
  121         (6) If Whenever an action filed in court under pursuant to
  122  this section or s. 760.35 comes to trial, the commission shall
  123  immediately terminate all efforts to obtain voluntary
  124  compliance.
  125         (7)(a) The commission may institute a civil action in any
  126  appropriate court if it is unable to obtain voluntary compliance
  127  with ss. 760.20-760.37. The commission does need not have to
  128  petition petitioned for an administrative hearing or exhaust
  129  exhausted its administrative remedies before prior to bringing a
  130  civil action.
  131         (b) The court may impose the following fines for each
  132  violation of ss. 760.20-760.37:
  133         1. Up to $10,000, if the respondent has not previously been
  134  found guilty of a violation of ss. 760.20-760.37.
  135         2. Up to $25,000, if the respondent has been found guilty
  136  of one prior violation of ss. 760.20-760.37 within the preceding
  137  5 years.
  138         3. Up to $50,000, if the respondent has been found guilty
  139  of two or more violations of ss. 760.20-760.37 within the
  140  preceding 7 years.
  142  In imposing a fine under this paragraph, the court shall
  143  consider the nature and circumstances of the violation, the
  144  degree of culpability, the history of prior violations of ss.
  145  760.20-760.37, the financial circumstances of the respondent,
  146  and the goal of deterring future violations of ss. 760.20
  147  760.37.
  148         (c) The court shall award reasonable attorney attorney’s
  149  fees and costs to the commission in any action in which the
  150  commission prevails.
  151         (8) Any local agency certified as substantially equivalent
  152  may institute a civil action in any appropriate court, including
  153  circuit court, if it is unable to obtain voluntary compliance
  154  with the local fair housing law. The agency does need not have
  155  to petition petitioned for an administrative hearing or exhaust
  156  exhausted its administrative remedies before prior to bringing a
  157  civil action. The court may impose fines as provided in the
  158  local fair housing law.
  159         Section 3. Section 760.35, Florida Statutes, is amended to
  160  read:
  161         760.35 Civil actions and relief; administrative
  162  procedures.—
  163         (1) An aggrieved person may commence a civil action shall
  164  be commenced no later than 2 years after an alleged
  165  discriminatory housing practice has occurred. However, the court
  166  shall continue a civil case brought under pursuant to this
  167  section or s. 760.34 from time to time before bringing it to
  168  trial if the court believes that the conciliation efforts of the
  169  commission or local agency are likely to result in satisfactory
  170  settlement of the discriminatory housing practice complained of
  171  in the complaint made to the commission or to the local agency
  172  and which practice forms the basis for the action in court. Any
  173  sale, encumbrance, or rental consummated before prior to the
  174  issuance of any court order issued under the authority of ss.
  175  760.20-760.37 and involving a bona fide purchaser, encumbrancer,
  176  or tenant without actual notice of the existence of the filing
  177  of a complaint or civil action under the provisions of ss.
  178  760.20-760.37 is shall not be affected.
  179         (2)An aggrieved person may commence a civil action under
  180  this section regardless of whether a complaint has been filed
  181  under s. 760.34(1) and regardless of the status of any such
  182  complaint. If the commission has obtained a conciliation
  183  agreement with the consent of an aggrieved person under s.
  184  760.36, the aggrieved person may not file any action under this
  185  section regarding the alleged discriminatory housing practice
  186  that forms the basis for the complaint except for the purpose of
  187  enforcing the terms of the conciliation agreement.
  188         (3)An aggrieved person may not commence a civil action
  189  under this section regarding an alleged discriminatory housing
  190  practice if an administrative law judge has commenced a hearing
  191  on the record on the allegation.
  192         (4)(2) If the court finds that a discriminatory housing
  193  practice has occurred, it shall issue an order prohibiting the
  194  practice and providing affirmative relief from the effects of
  195  the practice, including injunctive and other equitable relief,
  196  actual and punitive damages, and reasonable attorney attorney’s
  197  fees and costs.
  198         (5)(a)(3)(a) If the commission is unable to obtain
  199  voluntary compliance with ss. 760.20-760.37 or has reasonable
  200  cause to believe that a discriminatory practice has occurred:
  201         1. The commission may institute an administrative
  202  proceeding under chapter 120; or
  203         2. The aggrieved person aggrieved may request
  204  administrative relief under chapter 120 within 30 days after
  205  receiving notice that the commission has concluded its
  206  investigation under s. 760.34.
  207         (b) Administrative hearings shall be conducted under
  208  pursuant to ss. 120.569 and 120.57(1). The respondent must be
  209  served written notice by certified mail. If the administrative
  210  law judge finds that a discriminatory housing practice has
  211  occurred or is about to occur, he or she shall issue a
  212  recommended order to the commission prohibiting the practice and
  213  recommending affirmative relief from the effects of the
  214  practice, including quantifiable damages and reasonable attorney
  215  attorney’s fees and costs. The commission may adopt, reject, or
  216  modify a recommended order only as provided under s. 120.57(1).
  217  Judgment for the amount of damages and costs assessed pursuant
  218  to a final order by the commission may be entered in any court
  219  having jurisdiction thereof and may be enforced as any other
  220  judgment.
  221         (c) The district courts of appeal may, upon the filing of
  222  appropriate notices of appeal, review final orders of the
  223  commission under pursuant to s. 120.68. Costs or fees may not be
  224  assessed against the commission in any appeal from a final order
  225  issued by the commission under this subsection. Unless
  226  specifically ordered by the court, the commencement of an appeal
  227  does not suspend or stay an order of the commission.
  228         (d) This subsection does not prevent any other legal or
  229  administrative action provided by law.
  230         Section 4. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law.