A Baltimore City jury, in December, awarded over $2 million in damages against a real estate developer that used exclusively white human models in its advertisements over a three-year period. The verdict, believed to be the largest ever for discriminatory advertising, was awarded to Kim Fenwick-Schafer, an African American woman who was looking to buy a house in 1989, and Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc., a nonprofit fair housing organization, against Winchester Homes, Inc., which was the third largest developer in the Baltimore area in the late 1980's.
According to Andrew D. Freeman, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Winchester Homes spent over $1 million a year on advertising in the Baltimore area in 1987, 1988, and 1989. Those advertisements included hundreds of television, newspaper and magazine advertisements with pictures of white people and none with pictures of African Americans or other minorities.
The federal Fair Housing Act forbids real estate advertisements that express a racial preference, and the jury found that Winchester Homes' advertisements in those years violated that law. It awarded compensatory damages of $15,000 to Ms.
Fenwick-Schafer and $800,668 to Baltimore Neighborhoods. It awarded punitive damages of $1,200,000 to both plaintiffs. Ms. Fenwick-Schafer plans to donate a portion of her award to Baltimore Neighborhoods.
"In the 1950's and 1960's," said Mr. Freeman, "real estate ads blatantly said 'Whites Only.' Winchester Homes' ads were subtler, but the message was the same. We hope the verdict sends a loud and clear message to real estate developers everywhere that discriminatory advertising will not be tolerated."
Martin Dyer, the Associate Director of Baltimore Neighborhoods, said the group plans to use a portion of the jury's award to expand its fair housing activities and to communicate its message that "Good Neighbors Come in All Colors."
Ms. Fenwick-Schafer and Baltimore Neighborhoods were represented in the lawsuit by Andrew D. Freeman and C. Christopher Brown of the Baltimore law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy. Earlier this year the Maryland State Bar Association and its affiliate, the People's Pro Bono Action Center, Inc., gave Brown, Goldstein and Levy an award as the pro bono law firm of the year.
Baltimore Neighborhoods Gains Access for the Disabled
Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. and Kilree Corporation announced, in December, that all future apartment buildings built by the company will be fully accessible to people with disabilities. This agreement by Kilree was part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed recently by Baltimore Neighborhoods, a non-profit fair housing group, and Keith Small, a 24-year-old who uses a wheelchair, against Kilree, a Timonium-based developer, for building apartments that allegedly were not fully accessible to people with disabilities, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. As part of the settlement, Kilree agreed to pay the plaintiffs $50,000 plus their attorney's fees.
Kilree denied any violation of the law on the grounds that its buildings complied with the guidelines of the Fair Housing Act. However, to avoid costly litigation and to satisfy the concerns of Baltimore Neighborhoods and Mr. Small, the company agreed to change some of the front building entrances under construction and make them fully accessible to people with disabilities. Steps leading to the main entrances are being removed and replaced with a straight-in entrance. Kilree has agreed that all future ground floor mufti-family dwellings built by it or its affiliates will be similarly accessible from any main building entrance. The interior features in the ground floor apartments are being made accessible to accommodate the particular needs of a tenant with disabilities.
"Kilree Corporation welcomes all tenants, with or without disabilities," said Steve James, a spokesman for the company. "Our objective is to make everyone feel welcome at our new home communities."
Keith Small, who plans to move into the apartments in March, expressed his pleasure with the settlement. "This agreement means that I will be able to enter my apartment through the front door and meet my neighbors more easily. I'm very pleased."
Mr Small and Mr. Dyer were represented by Andrew D. Levy and Andrew D. Freeman of the Baltimore law fun of Brown, Goldstein & Levy.