Baltimore Neighborhoods Settles Ad Case for $87,500 to BNI and $125,000 For Affirmative Recruitment

Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. (BNI) has settled four- lawsuits alleging discriminatory advertising. The settlements will result in $125,000 worth of affirmative efforts to recruit black residents to retirement communities and payments of over $85,000 to BNI. The January settlements were of claims against ESS Ventures, Inc., publisher of Baltimore Magazine and Mid-Atlantic Country magazine, and Patuxent Publishing Company, publisher of the Towson Times and several other newspa pers.

Also settled were suits against Peninsula United Methodist Homes, Inc., which owns and operates retirement communities in Maryland and Delaware, and College Manor, Inc., a retirement community in Lutherville, Maryland. These suits all challenged the ex clusive and extensive use of white human models in advertising for the two retirement communities. The suit against Patuxent Publishing also challenged classified ads that discriminated against families with children.

Federal law and regulations require that human models used in real estate ad campaigns be reasonably representative of both majority and minority populations in the metropolitan area where those ads are published. Because blacks comprise over 25 percent of the population of the Baltimore metropolitan area, they should be similarly represented in real estate ad campaigns that use human models.

BNI and other fair housing organizations believe that the failure to include black models in real estate advertising is a blatant and particularly insidious form of discrimination. It sends a message to an entire group that it is not welcome. "The cons istent exclusion of black models from real estate ads tends to make blacks reticent even to inquire about the advertised property," said Martin Dyer, Associate Director of BNI.

"Juries across the country have agreed that this kind of advertising has a discriminatory effect. They have awarded large verdicts against those who discriminate in this way," Mr. Dyer continued. In December 1993, a Baltimore City jury returned a verd ict of over $2 million in a lawsuit BNI brought against Winchester Homes, a large developer in the Baltimore area, for similar discriminatory advertising practices.

Some terms of the settlements in these cases are believed to be precedent-setting. For example, ESS Ventures will provide without charge, six half-page ads in Baltimore Magazine and four half-page ads in Mid-Atlantic Country, with rela ted creative and production assistance. These ads are valued at $25,000. The publisher will also offer discount advertisement rates for Mid-Atlantic Country magazine's annual retirement guide issue for all real estate advertisements containing black models.

Peninsula United Methodist Home has agreed to spend $20,000 for affirmative recruitment of black residents for retirement communities it operates. It has also agreed to waive a total of $78,000 in entry fees for new black residents. All four defendants have agreed to take steps to assure that at least one in four human models in real estate ads are black.

The settlements also require the four defendants to pay a total of $87,500 to BNI for damages, attorney's fees and costs. These cash payments are beyond the affirmative steps each defendant must take to ensure future non-discriminatory advertising pract ices.

"We routinely monitor newspapers and magazines for discriminatory ads," Dyer said. "For several months we looked at advertisements for retirement communities, and we found that they were using exclusively white models."

The attorneys for BNI were Andrew D. Freeman and C. Christopher Brown of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, a leading civil rights law firm in Baltimore.

Andrew Freeman, an attorney who handled this case and the 1993 case, said many more black models are used compared to five years ago but that the retirement communities have seen themselves as exempt from this policy.

But Dyer and Freeman said that advertisers know the impact of their ads and that real estate businesses and publishers should be aware of the regulations, which were enacted in 1968.