Southern California landlord pays $775,000 for discriminating against families and minorities

The Fair Housing Council of Orange County (FHC) settled a family status and racial discrimination lawsuit against Clark Biggers, the owner of four southern California apartment complexes, for $775,000. The August settlement is the largest in the Fair Hou sing Council's 30-year history. FHC filed the suit after uncovering evidence that Biggers discriminated against families with children and minorities.

The FHC will receive $59,000 for investigation-related expenses it incurred since 1993. Another $71,000 will go into a fund to compensate the identified victims of housing discrimination in the case.

The case was filed in 1993 after three families complained to the FHC that Biggers charged higher rent to them because they had children. Biggers owns four complexes in the southern California cities of Anaheim, Fullerton, and Brea. The Fair Housing Council found nearly 30 families who had either been charged higher rents or who had been denied apartments altogether at Biggers' complexes. Three other plaintiffs who alleged that Biggers discriminated against them because of their race also received monetary awards.

In a Los Angeles Times interview, Barry Litt, the attorney who represented the FHC, said, "In a case like this, you [usually] don't have large damages." He went on to say that the true importance in the case was to ensure that other landlords are deterred from discriminating against families with minor children and minorities. Litt then told the Times, "Hopefully, determinations like this send a message to other people who are thinking about discriminating."

David Quezada, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of Orange County, told the Times that the settlement in the case "sends the message that discriminatory housing practices will not be condoned in this locality."

Although the FHC considered the settlement a great victory for the fair housing movement in southern California, the Los Angeles Times claimed, in an unsigned editorial, that the victims in the case and the FHC "got the short end" of the settlement because Litt received $645,000 for his legal work on the case. According to the editorial the FHC and "the tenants who suffered the discrimination" only got 17% of the monetary award. "There is something wrong with this picture," said the article.

Gregory Chris Brown, Chairman of the Fair Housing Council's Board of Directors, responded to the editorial, saying that it was "misleading and lacked logic." Brown claimed that the victims agreed to the amount of their monetary award before attorney's fees were even discussed. "There was no relationship between monies received by the plaintiffs and the attorney's fees," he said. Brown said it was wrong for the Times to claim that the victims got "the short end." Brown went on to say that the settlement was "a great victory for the community."

Quezada told the Times that Litt spent "thousands of hours on the case. Literally over 5,000 hours." He later told the Times, "What I am disturbed about is that the defense did not settle this promptly. Instead, this went on for years."