HUD ALJ O'Bryant Tells Las Vegas Public Housing to Pay $163,590 For Steering Black Mother and Daughter

In a sweeping order by HUD Administrative Law Judge Constance T. O'Bryant, the Housing Authority of Las Vegas, Nevada (HALV), was ordered to pay $163,590 for racial discrimination and racial steering of Blacks to segregated Black housing. Her November order came after three days of hearings on a complaint by Marie Campbell, a 42-year-old African-American, and her 12-year-old daughter, Michelle Kirkland. In 1993, Ms. Campbell complained to HUD that the authority steered her and her daughter to a predominantly African-American complex, and later refused to transfer them to another complex because of their race. The order is seen as significant because it involves strong federal governmental action against discriminatory local governmental practice s which have long continued in many cities.

The Campbells complained that HALV discriminated by providing a two-bedroom unit in the predominantly Black public housing on the West Side of Las Vegas, while failing to offer the option of waiting for an East Side unit to become available.

Judge O'Bryant said, by operation of a Voluntary Compliance Agreement adopted in 1991, "Complainants were entitled to be given the opportunity to wait for the next available unit of appropriate size in a nonconcentrated development." The agreement between HUD and HALV was to remedy a pattern of segregation in which African-Americans were primarily housed on the West Side of Las Vegas, and non-African-Americans on the East Side of Las Vegas.

In August 1991, of HALV's 971 West Side family units, African-Americans occupied from 70.2% at Evergreen Arms to 96% at Herbert Gerson Park (HGP). At the same time, of 882 East Side family units, African-Americans occupied from 8% at Ernie Cragan Terrace (ECT) to 41.7% at Cedar Gardens. Authority practices had resulted in a waiting list containing 55% African-Americans. Las Vegas Boulevard was the demarcation line for the East and West Sides.

Much of the discrimination was attributed to Ms. Ruth Pipkins, a 21-year Hispanic/Latina employee of HALV. Judge O'Bryant found that the authority violated the fair housing act "when Ms. Pipkins steered Complainants to the West Side development of HGP because of their race."

The order said, Ms. Pipkins "assisted Hispanic applicants to obtain housing on the East Side while declining to offer similar aid to African-American applicants." ALJ O'Bryant said she demonstrated a racial bias against African-Americans. "She was rude only to African-Americans and openly spewed racial epithets." Ms. Pipkins said, "The Blacks have always lived on the West Side. It's where they want to live. It's where they deserve to live." O'Bryant concluded, "Because Ms. Pipkins was employed by HALV at the time she violated the Act, HALV is vicariously liable for her actions."

Ms. Campbell and her daughter repeatedly requested to be transferred to the East Side. At the same time, she "saw that people of other races were being placed in the very environment she had requested." Ms. Campbell became concerned for her daughter's safety. She met with the housing authority to appeal their refusal to transfer her family. In September 1993, a firebomb was thrown through Michelle's bedroom window while she slept in the living room. The next day they were transferred to an apartment "at ECT on the East Side where they continue to reside," according to the ALJ order.

Michelle suffered from symptoms that "parallel...post-traumatic stress disorder." The ALJ found that she "has very negative feelings about her race due to her life...at the West project. Michelle told of being victimized...without anyone coming to her rescue." Her condition required weekly intensive psychotherapy sessions for a year. In addition to standard injunctive relief, the Las Vegas authority was ordered to pay $163,590 as follows: $40,000 for emotional distress to the mother Marie Campbell; $80,000 for emotional distress to her daughter Michelle Kirkland; $5,200 for therapy to Marie Campbell; $14,040 for therapy to Michelle Kirkland; $3,250 for family therapy; $1,100 for out-of-pocket expenses to the family; and two civil penalties of $10,000 each to HUD.

Attorneys for the Secretary: Linda Cruciani, Steven Sacks, Ming-Yuen Fong

HUD ex rel. Campbell v. Housing Authority of City of Las Vegas HUD ALJ 09-94-1016-1.

Filed with HUD 9-30-93

HUD Charge Issued 12-7-94

ALJ Hearing 3-28-30-95

Order 6-16-95