Catholic nuns win $250,000 in Chicago race case

In November, two nuns who were unfairly evicted settled a federal fair housing lawsuit for$250,000. Sister Phyllis Sheppard, who is African-American, and Sister Kathleen Burke, whois white, received guidance and legal assistance from the Leadership Council forMetropolitan Open Communities. The Leadership Council was also a plaintiff in the federallawsuit and received a portion of the settlement which covered their costs associated withthe case.

Clarence and Eileen Jacobs, the two white landlords who evicted the nuns,agreed to settle the case after the Chicago Commission on Human Relations ordered them topay $165,000 in damages and attorneys' fees to Sheppard. The Sisters of Providence, theorder to which Sheppard and Burke belonged, promised to use the award to educate peopleabout racism and racial discrimination.

Burke had lived with another white nun in an apartment owned by theJacobses for four years with no problems. When her former roommate moved out, Burke askedSheppard to move in. According to the Associated Press, the Chicago neighborhood where thenuns lived was mostly white.

Landlords gave nuns eight days to move out after African-American nunmoved in
Shortly after Sheppard moved in, the Jacobses told Burke and Sheppard that they would haveto vacate the apartment. The landlords gave the nuns eight days to move out. The Jacobsesclaimed that the apartment was needed for a family member.

Burke and Sheppard moved out of the apartment, but no relative of the Jacobses evermoved in. Instead, the apartment was put back on the rental market and rented to a whitetenant. The Leadership Council confirmed that the new tenant was not related to theJacobses in any way.

Sheppard filed a complaint of racial discrimination with the Chicago Commission ofHuman Relations in November 1994. Eleven months later, the Commission ruled that theJacobses had violated provisions of the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance.

Sheppard and the Jacobses attended a conciliation conference in an attempt to resolvethe complaint, but a resolution was not reached. So, in July 1996, the Leadership Council,the Sisters of Providence, and Sheppard filed a federal housing discrimination complaint.

Burke, who said that she had never witnessed discrimination first-hand, asserted that,like most white Americans, she was unaware that discrimination was still a problem."I felt like it was behind us and in the history books. I was wrong," she said.

Sheppard did not attend the press conference to announce the settlement of hercomplaint. She did issue a written statement which was read at the conference. Sheppardcondemned the discriminatory actions of the Jacobses. She said, "What happened to mein a Chicago Northwest Side neighborhood should not occur in any neighborhood."

Sheppard later went on to say that aggressive enforcement of fair housinglaws will help to change that neighborhood. Since the case was filed, Sheppard, who worksas a psychotherapist, has left the Sisters of Providence.

Nun was deeply upset by landlords' actions
Sister Ann Margaret O'Hara of the Sisters of Providence said that Sheppard was deeplyupset by the incident. "She felt her very person was attacked," O'Hara said.