Chicago Human Relations Commission Orders Broker to Pay $54,000 To Black and White Complainants

The Chicago Commission on Human Relations in May ordered a real estate broker to pay $54,000 for failure to allow a sublease because of race. The complaint by a white condo tenant and an African-American prospective subtenant alleged that Real Estate Broker Dean Sallas, refused the sublet because of race.

In Chicago Complainants Get Punitive Damages

The Chicago Commission ordered payment of $35,000 in punitive damages to the complainants. The Commission, chaired by Clarence N. Wood, apportioned the punitive damages between the two complainants according to their non-out-of pocket compensatory damages. Jan Demby who wanted to sublet the unit got $29,166, and David Nash, the white tenant who wanted to sublease was to receive $5,833. Actual damages of $16,230 to Demby and $3,000 to Nash brought the total to $54,000. The landlord was also fined $500. Attorneys' fees and costs were awarded but had not been calculated.

Complainant David Nash wanted to move to Missouri and was told by Broker Sallas that he should find another tenant and sublet the apartment. Complainant Demby was a teacher of inner city children on Chicago's West side. Mr. Demby saw the apartment and made repeated efforts to obtain Mr. Sallas's approval of his sublease application, but was rejected

"I'll See Your Black Ass in Court"

The order by the Commission said, in his last phone conversation, "Sallas made the first of several statements reflecting direct racial animus." Mr. Demby believed the reason Mr. Sallas would not rent to him had to be his race and he so informed Mr. Sallas. Demby testified that Sallas's response was "If you think you have a legal leg to stand on, I'll see your black ass in court."

After being rejected by Mr. Sallas, Jan Demby was angry, upset and confused. The Commission's order said "He went through a period in which he was angry at the world. He felt hurt and humiliated." Demby testified that at age seven, in Lawrence, Kansas, he was the only Black child in his class, and was made to sit in the back of the room. After the charge was filed with the CCHR, Sallas embarked on an elaborate and disreputable scheme of lies and deception designed to defraud the Commission into believing he had subsequently rented unit 2N to a Black person, as reported in the order. It said Sallas took advantage of his relationship with a Black member of his church and of a white tenant in desperate need of an apartment. He had one of them sign a phony lease, prepared phony rent receipts, and a phony utility listing.

In April 1993, Dean Sallas again revealed his intentions regarding his unwillingness to rent to Black people. A tenant asked him about a For Rent sign he had up. "He said he only put it out on weekends because if he kept the sign up during the week when the commission works, they might send people out as testers." He also told her, "He did not want to rent the apartments to Indians or to blacks or to anyone that looked nasty," as reported in the order.

A week later Sallas told a tenant, "The thing is... it's just that when you have a Black person living in your building, it runs down the property values.... They might not do anything. They might be just wonderful people. Just the fact that you have a Black person living in the apartment runs down the property value and runs down the neighborhood, as well."

Had Not Knowingly Rented to a Black

In a concluding section the Commission said, "In the instant case, the direct and credible evidence of intentional racial discrimination is overwhelming." It said a complainant must prove discrimination on the basis of race through the introduction of direct evidence which is credible and which has resulted in an actionable claim. The Commission also said, "In such a case, it isn't necessary to engage in the burden shifting analysis set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, and universally used in the housing discrimination arena."

The Commission said, Sallas " . . . has never personally and knowingly agreed to rent to a Black person in his 15-20 years owning and managing apartments." After a two-day hearing in October 1994, it was found that Sallas managed or owned 15 properties and collected $13,000 in rent each month. But at the time of the hearing none of the tenants were Black and Sallas had rented to only two Blacks in the past

The Commission said, "Mr. Sallas is not an unsophisticated, or disrespected Realtor. He has served as president of the sales division of the Chicago Real Estate board. He was on the North Side Real Estate Board where he taught indoctrination classes from 1969 through 1979. And he has been on the Management Committee of the Chicago Real Estate Board."

Analysis of 75 Cases

Fair housing attorneys will find useful an analysis of more than 75 cases in which emotional injury damages have been awarded to victims of housing discrimination. The thoughtful outline by the Commission divided the cases into three basic types of awards:

Damage Awards Under $5,000

1. Modest damage awards (typically under $5,000)have been awarded when one or more of the following features were present:

  • a. There was negligible or merely conclusory testimony concerning mental distress;
  • b. The discriminatory conduct consisted of discrete acts which took place over a brief period of time;
  • c. There were no prolonged effects of the discriminatory conduct;
  • d. There was no medical treatment and/or a paucity of physical symptoms;
  • e. The discriminatory conduct was not so egregious that one would expect a reasonable person to experience severe emotional distress;
  • f. The complainant was not unusually fragile due to past experiences or a preexisting condition; or
  • g. The conduct involved refusal to rent, rather than harassment, or an attempt to evict or refusal to sell.(16 cases were cited with their award amounts)
Damages More than $10,000

2. Damages in excess of $10,000 have been awarded in those circumstances where one or more of the following features were present:

  • a. Detailed testimony revealed specific effects of the discriminatory conduct;
  • b. The conduct took place over a prolonged period;
  • c. The effects of the mental distress were felt over prolonged period of time;
  • d. The mental distress was accompanied by physical manifestations and/or medical or psychiatric treatment;
  • e. The discriminatory conduct was particularly egregious, accompanied by face to face conduct, racial or sexual epithets and/or actual malice; or
  • f. The complainant was particularly vulnerable. (32 cases cited with their award amounts)
Damages of $50,000 and Above

3. More substantial emotional injury damages awards have been granted where the discriminatory acts were accompanied by acts of violence or threats of violence or where the complainant suffered a serious medical or psychological reaction to the discriminatory acts. (Four cases cited with their award amounts.)

"He was subjected to cold, insensitive and hostile treatment by Mr. Sallas because of his race. Mr. Demby was visibly upset as he testified to the indignities inflicted upon him by Mr. Sallas. He felt that he had let down his wife and children." The order said, "The Respondent's action had both a direct and indirect effect on Mr. Demby. It brought back painful memories of childhood hurts experienced in Kansas because of his race. It forced him to explain to his son the painful realities of racism. And, indirectly, it seems to have contributed to Mr. Demby's negative feelings about the City of Chicago resulting in his return to his native Kansas."

Broker Attempted to Deceive

In supporting the punitive award, the Commission said,"What is particularly offensive is the length to which Sallas was prepared to go in an attempt to deceive the chicago Commission on Human Relations. Sallas was willing to drag numerous innocent people into his web of deception in order to pretend that he did not discriminate against Blacks. In so doing, he disrupted the lives of Mr.Van Harris and Ms McDermott as well as those that he more directly injured. This fraudulent conduct only compounds the need to award punitive damages."

The relief ordered by the Commission included notification of the Illinois Department of Professional regulation that licensed Real Estate Broker Sallas had been found guilty of violating the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance. He said, "The Commission is hopeful that ...office will zealously pursue disciplinary measures against respondent Sallas."