Management company to pay $250,000 to settle McLean, VA family status discrimination suit

After a two-year court battle, a Virginia apartment complex has agreed to pay $250,000 to the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit charging family status discrimination. On November 21, 1995, Judge Albert V. Bryan, Jr. signed a consent order that called for WEST*GATE and WEST*GROUP, Inc. to pay compensatory damages, attorneys' fees and costs to Rhonda Straka, Omnia Burgess, and the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington.

The suit was filed in late 1993 after Straka and Burgess were denied housing in The Commons of McLean, a 577-unit apartment complex in McLean, Virginia. The two women had planned to share the apartment with their children. Straka had an infant son and Burgess had a two-year-old daughter.

According to the lawsuit, resident manger Janet Sisson told Straka and Burgess that The Commons would not allow four people to live in a two-bedroom apartment because its occupancy policy would only allow three persons to live in a two-bedroom apartment. Sisson also misrepresented the availability of three-bedroom apartments at The Commons.

Follow-up testing by the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington confirmed that The Commons would not allow four people to move into a two-bedroom apartment. Based on the results of the testing, the Fair Housing Council, along with Straka and Burgess, sued WEST*GATE and WEST*GROUP, the owner and management company of The Commons respectively, alleging that the policy was unreasonable and violated the Fair Housing Act's familial status provision since it had an adverse effect on families with children.

In addition to the monetary payments, the defendants consented to begin educational training programs to instruct employees of "the requirements and purpose of the Fair Housing Act of 1968." WEST*GROUP also consented to changing its occupancy policy. WEST*GROUP promised not to enforce a standard stricter than two-persons-per-bedroom. The defendants also agreed to undertake extensive record keeping and the reporting of rental practices including the display of a list of all vacant apartment s by "apartment number, size of apartment, and maximum number of occupants." The order called for the use of human models in advertisements that do not "indicate a preference for adults to the exclusion of children." It also stated that WEST*GATE and WE ST*GROUP will be responsible in the future for investigating any complaints of discrimination at any building they own or manage.

WEST*GATE and WEST*GROUP consented to provide fair housing brochures and pamphlets to prospective renters. The consent order also calls for the defendants to publish a notice to potential victims of housing discrimination in the Washington Post. The consent order signed by the defendants will remain in full effect through the year 2000.