Black Couple Sues Real Estate Appraiser After Home Valuation Increases By $300,000 When Shown By White Colleague

A Maryland couple is suing a local real estate appraiser and an online mortgage provider after alleging that the housing appraisal they received was unfairly low due to their race, violating the Fair Housing Act.

Female Singing

Sia Claims ‘Nepotism’ Is Why She Cast Maddie Ziegler Over Autistic Actor In New Film

Sia has recently received a lot of backlash from the public after announcing her new movie “Music,” which stars Maddie Ziegler, Sia’s longtime muse, as a teenager on the autism spectrum who can’t speak and uses music to communicate and understand the world. 

The decision to cast Ziegler, an individual who’s not on the autism spectrum at all, over an actor who actually is on the spectrum has caused Sia to receive a multitude of complaints and online backlash from individuals who claim the choice was ableist. Initially Sia defended the decision by claiming the character Ziegler is portraying is non-verbal, and typically individuals on the spectrum who are non-verbal would need to be specially accommodated on something as intimidating as a Hollywood set. 

However, these comments seemed to have caused an even bigger uproar online, especially for individuals who actually have autism. Alaina Leary is a journalist who’s on the spectrum herself and recently wrote an op-ed piece on this controversy

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“The implication is that a non-speaking autistic actor who might require accommodations on set is, in essence, incapable—thus reinforcing ableist ideas that already lock out such performers.”

The biggest issue people took with Sia’s casting decision is that she was further shutting the door on a pool of actors who are already denied opportunities simply because they’re autistic. This also speaks on a much larger issue in Hollywood of hiring already established actors to play roles that they don’t relate to at all in real life in order to seem more “palatable” to a general audience. 

We see it most often with the hiring of heterosexual actors to portray LGBT+ roles, however, the hiring of able-bodied or neurotypical actors to portray individuals with physical or mental disabilities has been a longstanding issue in Hollywood that clearly continues to shine bright; one of the biggest examples being Tom Hanks in the movie “Forrest Gump.” 

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During an interview with “The Sunday Project,” and Australian TV show, Sia defended the decision to cast Ziegler in the film by claiming nepotism as her reasoning. 

“I realized it wasn’t ableism. I mean, it is ableism I guess as well, but it’s actually nepotism because I can’t do a project without Ziegler. I don’t want to. I wouldn’t make art if it didn’t include her.”

Ziegler, 18, first became famous after appearing on reality TV show “Dance Moms” where Sia initially discovered her, and the two have been working on projects together ever since. Sia even claimed that Ziegler herself expressed multiple concerns on set over her role, telling Sia she was worried people would think she was “making fun” of people with autism, to which Sia replied that she “wouldn’t let that happen.” 

“Music” follows a young girl with autism who is raised by her drug-dealing older sister, played by Kate Hudson. Quickly after the trailer was released it became the center of a massive debate regarding the trend of hiring non-disabled actors in leading roles where a central aspect of the main characters journey is their disability. 

Sia did claim initially that she had tried to work with a young girl who was on the autism spectrum for the role, however, the girl found the experience to be “unpleasant and stressful” which led to Ziegler’s casting in the role.


Gov. Cuomo Proposes Anti-Discrimination Regulations

In the wake of an explosive report from Newsday detailing an extensive practice of discrimination against homebuyers of color on Long Island, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed new regulations meant to address this problem. Yesterday, the governor announced rules that would require real estate agents to give a disclosure about fair housing and the New York State Human Rights Law to prospective clients and display this information at offices and open houses. Additionally, the proposed rules would require organizations that offer fair housing education classes to record instructional settings and keep the video for a year in response to allegations that these classes are not taken seriously in the industry.

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While imposing regulations on private industries is always a controversial decision, many people who work in the real estate industry welcome the rule change. For instance, Jay Christiana, president of the Greater Capital Association of Realtors, said, “Anything that is going to be fair in housing, I certainly don’t have an issue with.” However, as demonstrated by the lengthy Newsday exposé, many New York real estate agents are fairly entrenched in their practices when dealing with clients, and as such may take issue with the addition of new rules.

Newsday’s story sent shockwaves throughout the entire local real estate industry, as the discriminatory practices recorded by the newspaper’s staff shocked the island. Some in the industry suggested the story made the problem seem worse than it is; though Christiana supports the proposed anti-discrimination regulations, he said “Most people are highly ethical in our business — it’s always for the few that we’re enacting these new laws.” It should be noted that the subjects in the Newsday investigation likely violated New York law by steering clients towards communities of similar racial makeup, and Cuomo’s proposed regulations would just make it easier for the government to enforce housing laws that are already on the books.

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The new rules are set to go into effect after a public comment period lasting 60 days. Assuming the rules are not revised in response to the public comments, the regulations would take effect in a little more than two months. In a prepared statement, Cuomo said, “Housing discrimination is completely unacceptable and it’s also against the law. New York State is taking immediate action to help ensure renters and homeowners are protected from any and all discriminatory actions when it comes to safe, accessible housing.”

Montauk Lighthouse

Newsday Finds Widespread Racial Discrimination Among Long Island Realtors

A major three-year investigation by Newsday has revealed a widespread, systemic practice of racial discrimination against Hispanic, Asian, and Black Long Island homebuyers. Newsday characterized the investigation, which involved 240 hours of secret recordings, 25 trained undercover testers, and tests of 93 real estate agents, as one of the most extensive investigations they’ve ever conducted. According to the report, black buyers face disadvantages roughly half the time they enlist brokers, and other minorities also faced disadvantages but a lower rates. In order to ensure widespread access to the information, Newsday opted to remove their website’s paywall for this article, which the newspaper described as “essential and groundbreaking.”

According to the detailed and lengthy report, “house hunting in one of the nation’s most segregated suburbs poses substantial risks of discrimination.” For this project, the newspaper used a paired-testing approach in which they sent undercover testers with hidden cameras to 93 agents on Long Island to determine whether their experiences differed on the basis of race, with testers of different races claiming similar financial situations and housing requests. On Long Island, which is home to 2.8 million people, divisions exist along lines of race, class, and politics, and Newsday’s investigation highlights how a discriminatory real estate industry perpetuates this separation, disadvantaging people of color.

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The investigation featured tests conducted on all parts of Long Island, in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and found that Black homebuyers received different treatment 49% of the time, Hispanic homebuyers 39% of the time, and Asian homebuyers 19% of the time. Additionally, the report claims that real-estate brokerages steered white prospective homebuyers towards majority-white neighborhoods and encouraged minorities to seek housing in neighborhoods with high minority populations. One real estate agent, for instance, told a black customer that Brentwood has “the nicest people,” but the same agent advised a white customer to “do some research on the gang-related events in that area for safety.”

While the results of the investigation are not comprehensive enough to prove legal wrongdoing, they form a body of evidence that provides a general understanding of the extent of racial discrimination in Long Island housing, opening the door to potential future legal action against the offending parties. 

The investigators also found that real estate agents engage in other forms of discrimination. For example, agents commonly refused to provide home tours or house listings to minority testers unless they met financial requirements that weren’t imposed on white testers. Real estate agents had a tendency to choose places like Merrick, which has an 80% white population, for white customers. Additionally, the real estate agents demonstrated a pattern of sharing information about racial, ethnic, or religious demographics of different communities with white customers but not with minority customers. In these cases, the agents in question violated fair housing standards, which prohibit agents from discussing the racial makeup of communities when selling houses if doing so is meant to “steer” prospective homebuyers towards communities with similar racial characteristics. One agent, for instance, warned a white tester about Huntington, saying “You don’t want to go there. It’s a mixed neighborhood.”

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The investigation was comprehensive, covering areas where 83 percent of Long Island’s population live, from poor areas to wealthy ones like the Hamptons. Although real estate agents and brokers are bound by law to follow fair housing practices, many of the individuals who were subjects in the investigation clearly failed to do so in Newsday’s account. The newspaper also sent reporters to classes where fair housing standards were taught to real estate professionals, and described these classes as “shockingly thin in content.” Upon learning about being treated differently on the basis of race, one tester described the news as “pretty outrageous and, of course, offensive.” Overall, the investigation focused on twelve of the most popular real estate brands on the island, and find that only two of the firms showed no evidence of disparity in treatment along racial lines. Before publishing the report, Newsday informed the firms in question that they had been subjects of an investigation and shared their results, offering them a chance to review the evidence, respond, and take appropriate action. While the results of the investigation are not comprehensive enough to prove legal wrongdoing, they form a body of evidence that provides a general understanding of the extent of racial discrimination in Long Island housing, opening the door to potential future legal action against the offending parties. 

Doctor with Patient

Researchers Argue Sex and Gender Analysis Improves Science

It has long been understood in scientific circles that unconscious biases, particularly those relating to sex and gender, can have a negative impact on the objectivity of scientific findings. While the goal of science is to discover the truth in as objective a manner as possible, scientists are prone to the same unintentional, biased assumptions as anyone else, and the quality of scientific work can be affected. For instance, the appropriate dosage for a medicine may be devised with the assumption that the patient is male, leading to suboptimal dosage recommendations for women. As another example, safety equipment too can be designed with the physical concerns of men in mind, negatively affecting women who use the equipment. And as machine learning technologies advance, engineers are realizing that machine learning programs are capable of picking up on human beings’ unconscious biases and replicating them, perpetuating the problem.

In light of these realizations, much conversation has taken place regarding how best to correct for sex and gender bias in science. This concept is explored in an article posted in Nature entitled “Sex and gender analysis improves science and engineering.” The article’s authors argue that taking sex and gender into consideration while conducting science not only benefits less-advantaged individuals by recognizing the institutional challenges they face, but also improves the quality of science itself, as unconscious biases are identified and corrected. This approach, the authors claim, benefits multiple scientific fields, including medicine, artificial intelligence, and even climatology. 

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While many consider the terms synonyms, the researchers explain the difference between sex and gender, defining the former as including mainly biological attributes, whereas they define the latter as “psychological, social and cultural factors that shape attitudes, behaviours, stereotypes, technologies, and knowledge.” This distinction is important because sex and gender interact in complex ways; for instance, there exist physiological differences relating to the experience of pain between the sexes, and gender impacts how patients communicate pain with doctors and researchers. The researchers point out several improvements which have been made in this area over the past several decades; for instance, crash test dummies were originally based on a male physique, but now represent more diverse body shapes, allowing engineers to design vehicles that are safe for a larger number of people. However, they also point out areas for future improvement. 

As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that it doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

In their paper, the scientists focus on the surprising and complicated ways sex and gender manifest across a variety of disciplines, with the most focus placed on marine science, biomedicine, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The authors discuss how sex impacts science even in non-humans, as male and female marine life react differently to the effects of changing ocean temperatures, an observation which has generated insights about more accurately modelling the effects of climate change. In human beings, sex differences account for disparities in responses to various medicines, such as vasopressin and cancer immunotherapy, for biological reasons including differences in amounts of testosterone and estrogen and overall body composition.

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Perhaps more surprisingly, artificial intelligence is a field in which unconscious biases can make their way into technologies, unintentionally perpetuating cultural biases and stereotypes. For instance, advertising algorithms are more likely to automatically serve ads for high-paying jobs to men than to women, and automatic image captioning algorithms tend to misidentify pictures of men in kitchens as women. As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that artificial intelligence doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

The authors conclude by proposing solutions to many of the problems with sex and gender biases in science they identify. One suggestion is to foster greater interactions between the scientific community and the humanities, including social scientists. Allowing for interdepartmental conversations in this way helps scientists to learn about how biases emerge and affect human reasoning, and can incorporate this knowledge into their work. Additionally, the researchers advocate for greater transparency in scientists’ reporting by including variables relating to sex and gender in their data analyses. 

Supreme Court

Supreme Court To Vote On LGBT+ Workplace Discrimination Laws

The last time a LGBT+ issue was brought to the Supreme Court was in 2015, when they historically voted to pass marriage equality, guaranteeing marriage privileges to any American regardless of sexual orientation. Now, nearly five years later, the fight continues but this time it’s for equality within the workplace. In nearly 30 states it’s still legal to not hire an individual, or fire them, solely based on their sexual orientation/gender identity. 

The Supreme Court will be deciding on Tuesday, October 8th, whether or not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act should specifically include sexual orientation in its specifications. Currently, the Title only covers a barring of discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin. Throughout the years lower courts in state systems have rejected sexual orientation as a means of sexual discrimination, basically making it legal for employers to fire someone, or refuse them business, based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This leaves members of the LGBT+ community constantly vulnerable to discrimination, and minimizes their job market, simply for being themselves. 

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People line up to hear oral arguments on the first day of a new term at the US Supreme Court – October 7, 2019

Throughout the past decade or so many lower level courts have also made sure that LGBT+ individuals were protected from business/employment discrimination. For example, just last year New York’s Second U.S. Court of Appeals officially ruled that Title VII does cover and protect LGBT+ people, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

“The opinion by Chief Judge Robert Katzmann reasoned that ‘sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination’ because it necessarily takes sex into consideration. ‘Logically, because sexual orientation is a function of sex and sex is a protected characteristic under Title VII, it follows that sexual orientation is also protected,’ Judge Katzmann wrote, finding for the late Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who claimed he was fired in 2010 for being gay” (WSJ).

While this opinion does seem like it should be universally enforced, the wording of the Civil Rights Act isn’t as clear as Katzmann’s ruling, making discrimination a technically legal act in cases of employment. The court will hear from two individuals who were victims of the lack of clarity in Title VII, one man who said he was fired after his employer learned he was in a gay softball league, and a transgender woman who was denied a job as a funeral director, both individuals employee’s claimed the decision was made since both employee’s lived “lifestyles” that went against their “core beliefs”. 

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Supreme Court Scene In 2015 when Marriage Equality was passed. 

Luckily around 20 states have also reached similar rulings to that of Chief Judge Katzmann, and made sure they have rules that legally protect LGBT+ people from discrimination, such as these examples. In addition, according to The Wall Street Journal, large companies that employ hundreds of thousands of Americans, such as General Motors and J.P. Morgan and Sons, have signed company policies that ensure all of their employees are protected and can’t be discriminated against based on identity in any way, shape, or form. 

Conservatives have been able to use the vagueness of Title VII for years, using “originalism” and “textualism” arguments. Both of those mean that based on the general wording of the 1964 Act, it can’t be legally assumed that the Title was meant to protect LGBT+ individuals, but instead more so covers discrimination against someone being “male” or “female”, sexual orientation does not apply in terms of the use of the word “sex”.

It’s a language debate, individuals are aware that by the end of the day on Tuesday, one grouping of individuals is going to be really happy and one is not. The question over traditional values trumping progressive ones has once again become a national debate, it’s now up to the powers of our court system to make a decision.