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Web site may be sued for housing bias

SAN FRANCISCO, April 3 (UPI) -- A roommate-matching Web site may be sued for violating fair housing laws by requiring information that may foster discrimination, a U.S. appeals court ruled.

Twelve judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Thursday Roommates.com could be sued under federal housing laws by requiring users to provide information that people would be barred from seeking in person or on the telephone, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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"A real estate broker may not inquire as to the race of a prospective buyer, and an employer may not inquire as to the religion of a prospective employee," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the majority. "If such questions are unlawful when posed face-to-face or by telephone, they don't magically become lawful when asked electronically online."

The court ruled the site required users to answer the discriminatory questions as a condition to use the nationwide service that helps people seek housing.

In a dissent, Margaret McKeown said the ruling could undermine the Internet's growth.

"The majority's unprecedented expansion of liability for Internet service providers threatens to chill the robust development of the Internet that Congress envisioned," McKeown wrote.

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