Craigslist.org can't be held liable for discriminatory ads posted on its site, according to a court ruling released Friday.
A group of Chicago lawyers had sued the online classifieds site over real-estate ads that stated discriminatory preferences such as "no minorities" or "no children." The group, the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, argued that such ads are prohibited under the Fair Housing Act and that Craigslist should be held liable for allowing them to be posted on its Web site. Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, likening Craigslist to courier services such as FedEx or UPS, which do not read or screen the messages they deliver. Easterbrook said it would be expensive and problematic for Craigslist to filter messages before they were posted.
The ruling (PDF) is good news for the many Web sites that host public forums, giving them further legal protections against liability claims based on content posted by their users, but is an obvious setback for proponents of fair housing online and off.