New York Times Settles Ad Case Worth $450,000

After four years of litigation, the New York Times has agreed to settle a "human models" advertising case by paying $150,000 in damages and donating $300,000 worth of advertising space to the Open Housing Center, Inc. In the consent decree, the Times agreed to implement a policy that requires depictions of human models that represent the percentage of blacks and other minorities in the New York City metropolitan area.

The case, which reached the United States Supreme Court, was brought against the Times by the New York Open Housing Center and four individual plaintiffs. They entered an August consent decree.

The Times will publicize its policy in the newspaper, by letters to advertisers and other publishers. It cosponsored a November 9 meeting with the Housing Center. The $300,000 will go for 36 quarter page equal housing opportunity ads in the Sunday Times.

The suit filed in January 1989 alleged that the Times violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in a longstanding and continuing practice of publishing racially discriminatory advertisements for housing.

The advertisements were found to be discriminatory because they used white human models almost exclusively and most did not contain the equal housing opportunity logotype.

The 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibits the publication of any real estate advertisement "that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin or an intention to make any such preference, limitation or discrimination."

Kerry Scanlon of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and one of the plaintiffs' attorneys called the settlement a significant ruling in the national effort to end discriminatory real estate advertising. Mr. Scanlon compared it to a 1991 ruling in the case by the 2nd Circuit, which he said put aside any claim that the use of only white human models is not precluded by Title VIII.

The complaint specifically alleged that since the passage of the Act, the Times has published thousands of display advertisements in its real estate sections. The complaint noted virtually none of the models featured in those advertisements were black, despite; the fact that a significant portion of the New York City metropolitan area is black.

The consent decree reaffirms the parties' commitment to equal housing opportunity and real estate advertising that is free from any message of racial exclusion. The decree requires that the Times not accept real estate advertising that conveys, through the use of human models or otherwise, a racial message.

The Times has adopted a policy for accepting residential real estate advertising reflecting the area's population, which is 70% white, 20% black, and 10% other.

Scanlon said, "'The Times resisted doing any of this, and they basically fought this battle in the courts ... and devoted enormous resources in this case," but eventually adopted a policy almost the same as the one the (Washington) Post agreed to "after a week of very amicable negotiations." He said the lesson for other newspapers is that it is "cheaper, more productive to simply follow the law."

The Times' new advertising policy goes further than HUD's Fair Housing Act regulations. It specifically links compliance to the racial composition of the New York City metropolitan area.

The plaintiffs in this action are four African-American professionals who searched for housing, Luther M. Ragin, Jr., Dr. Deborah Fish Ragin, Dr. Jerome F. Cuyler, and Renaye Cuyler, Esq., and the Open Housing Center, a not-for-profit fair housing organization in New York City involved in eliminating discriminatory housing practices.

Donations for Fair Housing

The Ragins and the Cuylers have donated their portions of the plaintiffs $150,000 settlement payment to the Open Housing Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to support local and national fair housing efforts. The Open Housing Center will receive $100,000, and $50,000 will go to the NAACP LDEF and to Scanlon's former employer, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law.

The plaintiffs were represented pro bono by Shearman & Sterling and the NAACP LDEF. The New York Times was represented by its legal department. Inquiries regarding the consent decree may be addressed to Kathleen M. Comfrey of Shearman & Sterling (212-848-4000), Kerry Alan Scanlon of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (202-682-1300), Phyllis Spiro of the Open Housing Center (212-941-6101) and Nancy Nielsen, Vice President of Corporate Relations and Public Affairs of the New York Times (212-556-7078).

Ragin et. al. v. The New York Times Company, 89 Civ. 0228 (CSH) (S.D.N.Y. 8-16-93)