FHC-Detroit wins $569,000 arbitration award in advertising race case against Michigan complex

The Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit (FHC-Detroit) has won a $569,000 arbitration award in a case against Henry Ford Village, a planned retirement community in Dearborn, Michigan. Under the February award, the owners and managers of Henry Ford Village must set aside at least $469,000 for affirmative relief actions and pay $100,000 to FHC-Detroit.

Under the affirmative relief provisions, the operators of the retirement community must spend $469,000 by December 31, 1998, on the following items:

  • create the staff position of Manager of Affirmative Marketing;
  • retain a consulting firm to assist in the development and implementation of an affirmative marketing plan;
  • include a significant percentage of African-American models in advertisements that include use of human models.

The award stemmed from a lawsuit filed by FHC-Detroit after six months of negotiations with Henry Ford Village. According to the FHC-Detroit complaint, the operators of the retirement community had run hundreds of ads over a two-year period that featured white senior citizens, but had run only one television ad that featured an African-American senior citizen.

FHC-Detroit named Henry Ford Village, Senior Campus Living, and the Ford Motor Land Development corporation in the July 1995 federal complaint. FHC-Detroit charged the defendants with intentional racial discrimination in the marketing of Henry Ford Village. The complaint asserted that by including a phenomenally large number of white models in ads and only one African-American model, the operators of Henry Ford Village had "indicated a preference" for white tenants. This preference, according to FHC-Detroit, violated the advertising provisions of the Fair Housing Act.

The complaint was filed in US District Court and was assigned to Judge Lawrence Zatkoff. Zatkoff permitted the referral of both parties in the suit to an arbitrator. Both FHC-Detroit and the defendants agreed upon noted Detroit attorney William Saxton. Saxton, chairman and Managing Partner of the Butzel Long law firm, added several terms and conditions to an earlier agreement between the parties when he handed down the arbitration award.

Attorney Emily Hall, an FHC-Detroit Board Member and chairperson of the negotiating team, was satisfied with the arbitration award and said that she and FHC-Detroit hope "that Henry Ford Village will make a sincere effort to include more African-Americans in all facets of its advertising and marketing programs."

John Obee, a cooperating attorney, and Pramada Reddy, a former FHC-Detroit staff attorney, represented FHC-Detroit in the case. FHC-Detroit's Board of Directors, chaired by Noel Saleh, was actively involved in the litigation and participated in several depositions and many hours of negotiations. Ms. Dickens Warfield of Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. supplied Obee and FHC-Detroit with information about the advertising practices of Senior Campus Living, one of the defendants.