Federal jury orders landlords to pay $109,694 in damages and fees in Chicago racial discrimination case

In November, the brother and sister owners of a Chicago apartment building were ordered by the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to pay $44,694 in damages after they discriminated against an African-American man over the telephone.

Sherman Flowers, a steam-plant engineer for the Chicago Board of Education, telephoned Emily Klatick to inquire about renting an apartment which had been advertised in the Chicago Tribune. During a second telephone conversation, Klatick asked Flowers whether he was Black. When Flowers replied that he was African-American, Klatick said she did not rent to Blacks and that she was not going to "start a race riot." Klatick then stated that the 13-unit apartment building she and her brother owned in northwest Chicago was "all white." Following the second conversation, Flowers contacted the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities.

The Leadership Council investigated the claim and sent testers to the Klaticks' building. A white tester testified at trial that both Emily and Steven Klatick used racial epithets and said they would not rent to African-Americans. An owner of a building adjacent to the Klaticks' apartment building also testified that the Klaticks used racial slurs and did not rent to African-Americans.

The Leadership Council together with Sherman Flowers filed suit in federal court alleging racial discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act and sections 1981 and 1982 of the Civil Rights Act. On the first day of the trial, Emily Klatick, who was not represented by counsel, entered the courtroom and, before Federal Judge David Coar (who is African-American), demanded a white judge. Klatick stated that Flowers was not the real Sherman Flowers even though she had never seen him and had only spoken to him on the telephone twice. She then walked out of the courtroom. Klatick never returned to the courtroom during the trial.

During jury selection questioning, twelve members of the prospective jury pool said they could not be fair without hearing the KlaticksÂ’ side of the case and were excused. Eight jurors, one Hispanic and seven Whites, were empaneled from the remaining twelve members of the jury pool.

With the Klaticks absent, the eight jurors heard only the Plaintiffs present evidence. After deliberating, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Flowers for $1,000 in compensatory damages and $4,000 in punitive damages. The jury awarded the Le adership Council $1,694 in compensatory damages for investigation-related diversion of resources and $38,000 in punitive damages. In addition, the Leadership Council was awarded $65,000 for attorney fees and costs.

Edward A. Voci, attorney for the Leadership Council, stated that this case is important since it is the first successful case where a jury awarded substantial damages to a plaintiff who was discriminated against solely over the telephone. Additionally, the jury, after hearing the evidence, actually awarded higher punitive damages to the Leadership Council than were asked for during the trial.

The defendants, Emily and Steven Klatick, who failed to present evidence or even attend the trial, also failed to pay the judgment amount. In March, the federal court ordered Emily and Steven Klatick to pay the judgment amount plus 9 percent interest accruing from the date of the judgment, totaling more than $110,000. The Klaticks' 13-unit apartment building will be sold to satisfy the judgment.