D.C. Town Center Pays $350,000 to Resolve Apartment Rental Suit

One day into a jury trial, a D.C. real estate management firm agreed to pay $350,000 to a black woman who complained that she was unable to rent an apartment at the Charlestowne North complex in Greenbelt because of racial bias.

The payment promised by Town Center Management Cop. was a record sum, at the time of the May settlement, for a housing discrimination claim in the District, Maryland and Virginia, according to the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington, co-plaintiff in the suit.

The agreement was forged after Carolyn T. Jackson, the plaintiff, testified in U.S. District Court that she was repeatedly rebuffed by a rental agent for Town Center, a subsidiary of the real estate development firm Bresler & Reiner Inc., when she applied for an apartment in 1989.

Jackson, then 26 and employed by a computer company, said at the time she was searching for a two bedroom apartment to share with her mother, who was ill. A native of Maryland and a graduate of the University of Maryland, Jackson settled on Charlestowne North, where the rent was $680 a month.

Jackson submitted a written application and began calling weekly to find out whether such a unit was available. Jackson said she became suspicious when, from August through December 1989, she was told by the same agent there .were no vacancies at the 178 unit complex.

Jackson Conducted Own Test

In early January 1990, Jackson concocted a test to see whether the company was discriminating. She called the same agent, identified herself by a different name, and in her words,"talked white," using a higher pitched voice and enunciating every syllable of every word. She was told that a two bedroom apartment would be available the next month.

She called back the next day, as Carolyn Jackson, in her normal speech pattern and inquired whether any two bedroom apartments were available. She was told no, Jackson said. About two weeks later, she went into the rental office with a black colleague and again asked about the availability of an apartment. Again, she was told none were available.

Jackson filed a complaint with the Prince George's County Human Relations Commission, which ruled in her favor. She also pursued it with the Fair Housing Council and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. She said she declined a pretrial settlement with Town Center to ensure that the rental company changed its policies and "justice was done."

Ms. Jackson's claims of discrimination were further confirmed by the results of six fair housing tests by the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington at Town Center's properties around the metropolitan Washington area.

"This settlement sends a message that discrimination will not be tolerated in 1992," says the Reverend Dr. James G. Macdonell, President of the Board of Directors of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington.

"When the price of discrimination becomes prohibitively expensive, large management companies, like Town Center, clean up their practices," said John P. Relman of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. "We believe that this settlement will send a powerful message of deterrence across the community, and that it will encourage victims of housing discrimination to contact the Fair Housing Council. This shows that together we can fight housing discrimination and win" said Mr. Relman.

The case was co-counselled by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the law firm of Yablonski, Both & Edelman.