Pittsburgh Rental Case Settled for $1 Million

A federal judge in September approved what is believed to be the largest fair housing settlement in Pennsylvania history.

The $1 million settlement, approved by U. S. District Judge Alan Bloch, puts an end to a lengthy rental discrimination dispute involving one of Pittsburgh's largest landlords. The money could be divided among as many as 50 people according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

National Apartment Leasing Co., based in Shadyside, agreed to pay the money to settle a class-action lawsuit contending it steered black applicants away from its rental apartments.

The $1 million deal is tops in the commonwealth, according to the plaintiff's attorney, Timothy O'Brien. NALCO owns and manages nearly 1,000 apartments in the city's East End. In agreeing to the settlement, the company made no admission of any discriminatory action.

Gwen Shields, 32, an African-American, had attempted to rent one of NALCO's apartments in Shadyside in March 1990. She contacted the landlord on numerous occasions but was told in each instance no rental agent was available to take her call.

Shields became suspicious and had white and African-American co-workers contact NALCO regarding the same rental unit. Her white co-workers were put through to a rental agent, but her African-American co-workers were told no one was available to speak with them.

"I'm elated. I'm happy it's over, and I hope this sends a message to them that they cannot continue to do this type of thing and get away with it," Shields said.

Another unsuccessful NALCO apartment seeker was Shalene Stewart, 41, of Point Breeze, also an African-American. Stewart contacted NALCO in July 1991 and tried to rent an apartment. She became suspicious after continually being told no rental agent was available and somebody would return her call.

"I had two black friends call and NALCO never returned their calls," Stewart said. She also had three white coworkers call about the same apartments. They immediately got appointments to see rental units.

Stewart conceded she was looking for vindication but never assumed it would end with a monetary settlement. "I never thought it would come to this. I wasn't looking for the money," she said. "It's not about money; it's about having people do what they're required by law."

The settlement will be distributed among 35 to 50 African-Americans who are believed to be part of the class allegedly discriminated against. Each of the individuals attempted to rent an apartment through NALCO.