Heifetz Awards $50,000 Each To Interracial Couple For "Emotional Distress" In San Diego Apartment Eviction

HUD's Chief Administrative Law Judge has awarded a record $126,277 for rental discrimination against a white waitress and a black "D.J." who lived together. The order included payments of "actual damages" for "emotional distress" of $50,000 each, to complainants Vernald Frank and Patricia Rodriguez. The August 24, 1992 order by Alan W. Heifetz followed a May 12-13 hearing in San Diego.

Discrimination occurred at the Plaza Lagoon apartments where the AU found "No other black persons resided ... either when Frank moved in or during the time he resided there."

The complaint was against Ms. Brandy Tucker, resident manager at Plaza Lagoon, and owners John Nobel and Uriel Yossefi.

Tucker had eaten almost daily at Jimmy's Family Restaurant in Oceanside where Patricia Rodriguez had been a waitress for eleven years. They were friends. After Tucker became
resident manager of Plaza Lagoon she invited Rodriguez to move there. Vernald Frank had lived with Rodriguez at other apartments and Tucker had known that he was Rodriguez's boyfriend, and that he was black. In suggesting the move, Tucker had said the rent would be $500 a month and $50 more if Frank moved in.

Ms. Rodriguez moved in July 15, 1989, and bought all new furniture for her two bedroom apartment. She gave verbal notice August 4, that he was moving in and she would pay the added $50. He brought his $5,000 disk jockey equipment to the second bedroom. She had received a notice August 3, about paying for her "guest." Another notice to pay the $50 came August 4, and a third notice entitled "Thirty Day Notice to Quit" was dated August 7. About August 28, she tried to pay $550 rent for September, but Tucker refused and slammed her finger in the door. Rodriguez and Frank were served with an unlawful detainer action and settled it by agreeing to vacate by 10/24. They filed a complaint with HUD on 10/4/90.

Resident Manager's Statements Against Blacks

The ALJ order recited the transcripts many racially derogatory comments by Tucker against Vernald Frank and against black people. Jimmy's restaurant patrons reported that Tucker always referred to Frank as a "nigger." She stated her disapproval of Rodriguez living with "this nigger," and that she did riot "care for" black people, "period." Tucker said she was "making it hard" for Frank and Rodriguez so Frank would leave Plaza Lagoon.

A customer heard Tucker make statements against Rodriguez to other workers. He considered Tucker's conduct to constitute "continual harassment" and believed Tucker put Rodriguez under great stress. This harassment became so intense the manager barred
Tucker from the restaurant. Another tenant at Plaza Lagoon said Tucker told her "if I had known [Rodriguez'] husband was black I wouldn't have let them rent here." 'Tucker had allowed a white tenant to easily move in an additional roommate. The record also included evidence of discrimination by Tucker in a prior job.

Evidence to Support the Damages

The order recites evidence of damages, especially their difficult four-month stay at the Seven Gables motel they moved to. The ALJ said, "The record in this case provides dramatic evidence of psychic harm to Mr. Frank and Ms. Rodriguez both as individuals and as a couple." He said their relationship "...was crushed in a cubicle at the Seven Gables motel."

The conclusion of the order said,"Tucker's actions demonstrate her deeply held racial animus toward blacks in general ...Tucker used the word "'nigger," and she had the effrontery not only to address Frank by that epithet, but also, to demean him further by referring to him in the third person, as; if he were invisible or not there."

Other payments ordered included: Civil penalties of $10,000 from Tucker and owner Noble, and $5,000 from owner Yossefi. Out-of-pocket damages to Rodriguez were $1,277. Award totaled $126,277. (Copies of the 26 page ALJ order are available from the ADVOCATE.)

Time Line: HUDALJ 09-90-1008-1, 09-90-1009-1
Filed with HUD 10-4-90
HUD Charge Issued 2-10-92
ALJ Hearing  5-12/13-92
Order 8-24-92