Lorain County Urban League nets $40,000 in Ohio's first "victimless" racial discrimination case

In March, a federal judge approved a $40,000 award to the Lorain County Urban League, Inc. which sent testers to a 24-unit apartment building in Elyria, Ohio in an attempt to prove racial discrimination. Senior U.S. District Judge John M. Manos approved the amount to settle the suit against Butternut Terrace apartments. Cleveland civil rights lawyer Avery Friedman said that it is the largest amount ever granted to an Ohio civil rights group in a private suit under the Fair Housing Act.

In addition to paying $40,000 under the consent order, Ramaswamy Shankaran and Usha Shankaran, owners of Butternut Terrace, acknowledged that although they were unaware of discrimination taking place, they were liable for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

According to the consent order, the Shankarans agreed to have their apartment records monitored by the Urban League for two years. They also agreed to attend an anti-discrimination course offered by Metropolitan Strategy Group, a Cleveland Heights fair housing group.

The case was unusual because there were no direct victims of the racial discrimination discovered at Butternut Terrace. The evidence was provided solely by testers pretending to be homeseekers interested in renting an apartment. "The Supreme Court now permits civil rights groups to fight discrimination, even without direct victims," said Friedman, who prosecutes fair housing cases throughout the country. He added, "Two million Americans face housing discrimination every year, and this case may represent a powerful example of how to combat it."

Lorain County Urban League Director Delbert Lancaster said, "We're proud to have this significant federal victory, but we want to see fair housing groups start to do more of this, like they do in other parts of the country. Discrimination is too serious just to talk about it."