Oregon apartment manager accuses employers of not renting to Hispanics, wins $75,500 settlement

The owners and managers of a Multnomah County, Oregon apartment complex agreed, in July, to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit for $75,500. The suit, originally filed by a rental manager with the company, claimed that her employers had a "secret policy" of refusing to rent apartments to Hispanics.

The on-site manager at the Portland area complex alleged that she became aware of a discrimination policy against admitting new Hispanic tenants. She said that she became aware of the discrimination policy after a couple's application was denied by the management company. The husband was Mexican. The wife was white.

The resident manager contacted a Portland-area housing center, explaining that she felt there was a discrimination policy against Hispanics at the management company where she worked. The couple that was denied housing contacted the same agency. The agency referred both the manager and the couple to the Multnomah County Legal Aid Society (MCLAS).

MCLAS attorneys Jim Wrigley and Bob Huggins helped the couple file a complaint against the apartment complex. Private attorney Zachary Zabinsky later joined the couple's legal team. The resident manager was represented by attorney Lisa LeSage.

After complaints were filed by both the manager and the couple, the Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHC) discovered that, in 1993, they had tested the complex named in the complaint. The FHC investigation revealed that one of the two buildings owned and managed by the defendants was filled mostly with Hispanic tenants, and the other was almost totally occupied by white tenants. The FHC also found strong evidence of steering. The FHC and Peter Fels, their attorney, filed a motion to intervene as plaintiffs in the case. The judge in the case did not rule on that motion because the owners and managers of the apartment complex agreed to include the FHC in the settlement conference. The motion to intervene was granted as part of the stipulated judgment.

The owners and managers of the complexes paid a total of $75,500 to the three parties involved in the complaint. The manager, who brought the case against her employers, received $50,000. The couple that applied for the one-bedroom apartment, and were allegedly denied because the husband was from Mexico, received $18,000. The Fair Housing Council of Oregon received $7,500 plus affirmative relief. Affirmative relief includes advertisement of vacancies in the Spanish-language press and a vacancy sign to be displayed on the property.

According to the FHC, the owner of the complexes sold the mostly Hispanic complex after their 1993 investigation. The FHC and the other plaintiffs signed a confidentiality agreement, promising not to reveal the names of the parties involved in the case.