All-white Ohio jury awards $11,000 in race case

In February, an all-white Ohio jury awarded $11,000 to an African-American woman after a white landlord badgered her on the telephone. The jury awarded Margaret Grant, the plaintiff, $10,000 in punitive damages and $1,000 compensatory damages after a three-day trial in the Warren County Court of Common Pleas.

Andrew Margolius, a Cleveland attorney who represented Grant in the case, said that this case was unusual because the discrimination occurred only over the phone. Grant never met the landlord. Margolius also pointed out that the jury awarded substantial damages although Grant admitted she would not have moved into the apartment because it would not accommodate herself and her son.

Woman asked if she is "American" or "Caucasian"

In 1996, Grant was looking for an apartment in Warren, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown. Grant was hoping to find an apartment suitable for herself and her son. Grant saw a"FOR RENT" sign at a fourplex and called the phone number on the sign to ask about the unit.

Grant spoke to the landlord and found that the vacant unit was a two-bedroom apartment. After Grant asked how big the unit was; however, the landlord began to interrogate her. The landlord rudely asked if Grant was "an American" and if she was "Caucasian."

Grant told the landlord that she felt questions about her race and nationality were improper. The landlord told Grant that she could do whatever she wanted with her property. The landlord refused to tell Grant her name and then hung up her phone.

Landlord denies actions in court but is refuted

At trial, the landlord, whose name is Elizabeth Papiernik, denied that the conversation between Grant and herself ever occurred. Papiernik asserted that she had rented to African-Americans in the past and denied that she would discriminate against anyone. A witness' testimony contradicted Papiernik's statements. The witness said that Papiernik had asked for her race during a phone conversation.

Margolius said that he and Grant felt that Papiernik's bold discrimination and her efforts to avoid using her name required forceful prosecution. Margolius said that a post-trial motion for equitable relief through training, monitoring, and posting ofapplication and acceptance procedures, is presently pending before the Warren County Court.

Grant originally filed her complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

[Grant v. Papiernik, Court of Common Pleas, Warren County, Ohio; Case No. 96 CV1537]