Craigslist Found Not Liable for Discriminatory Ads

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According to federal judge Amy St. Eve of Chicago, unlike printed newspapers, online classified site Craigslist is not legally liable for housing ads posted on the site by users that discriminate on the basis of race.

In February, the legal advocacy group The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit against Craigslist over more than 100 housing ads posted in Craigslist’s Chicago section that included requirements such as “Non-women of Color NEED NOT APPLY,” “African Americans and Arabians tend to clash with me so that won’t work out,” or “Requirements: Clean Godly Christian Male.”

The Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, holds newspapers and other ad publishers legally responsible for publishing discriminatory ads. But the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 protects online forums and websites from lawsuits based on ads and other information posted by users, in order to encourage free expression.

According to the ruling, Craigslist is seen legally as third-party distributer of user content, and not a publisher. However, St. Eve rejected Craigslist’s argument that the CDA grants sites like Craigslist immunity from the legal effects of all the content on the site.

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