Anthony and Deeva Darby have been awarded $450,000 by a Federal Court jury in relation to their claim of racial discrimination by the owners and agents of Heather Ridge Apartments in Westland, Michigan. The dollar amount is the largest ever awarded in a fair housing litigation in Michigan and is among the highest awards ever made in a fair housing case in the United States. FHC Cooperating Attorneys E. Michael Morris and Cherie Bitter (Mr. Morris' Associate and Co-counsel) represented the Darbys in this action that was heard in the courtroom of Hon. Paul V. Gadola.
According to court documents, in May 1991, the Darby's, an African-American couple, inquired about a unit at the Heather Ridge rental office. Although rental agents were present, the Darby's were told no one was available to assist them and were instructed to return in one hour. They did so, only to be told that there was still no one available and they would have to wait an additional 30 minutes. Once again, they complied, waiting in their car, in the rental office parking lot, in 95 degree heat, with their one year old child. When they returned they requested, and were shown a model. The Darbys were impressed with the complex and the model unit and offered to leave a deposit. Their offer was declined with the explanation that there were no units available for rent and would not be any available until mid-July or even longer.
The Darbys then contacted FHC in response to a National Fair Housing Alliance/U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development television public service announcement that had listed FHC's phone number. FHC tested, and, as a later check of the Heather Ridge vacancy lists by Attorney Morris confirmed, units were available in June, but were not offered to the Darbys. Additional FHC testing produced other evidence of more favorable treatment of the White tester.
A lawsuit was filed, with the agents for the defendant responding, throughout the trial, that they could not remember the Darbys' visit and the Darbys must have confused their encounter with their experiences at other apartment rental offices.
Janet Keesee, one of the eight jurors (seven white persons and one minority person) who ruled unanimously in favor of the Darbys, stated that it only took a few minutes for the jury to agree that the Darbys had been victims of unlawful housing discrimination. The jurors devoted most of the 90 minutes spent in deliberation coming to agreement on the amount of damages to award the plaintiffs. Their award of $100,000 in compensatory damages to each plaintiff was higher than the amount requested by Attorney Morris in closing arguments. The $250,000 in punitive damages was arrived at by the jury based on the evidence presented. Ms. Keesee stated that the jurors "wanted to make an impression. No one should be treated like that."