A federal jury in Alabama awarded an African American real estate agent $100,000 in compensatory and punitive damages in April. The award was against Montgomery real estate company Lowder Realty in a racial discrimination case. The agent, P.R. Hall, charged the company with steering business to real estate agents based on race. Specifically, she accused Lowder of matching the race of customers with the race of agents, and providing African American agents business only in predominantly African American neighborhoods.
During her employment with Lowder Realty, Hall asserted that Lowder only referred clients to her who were African American. Lowder Realty had divided Montgomery into "Areas." "Area 5" was a predominantly African American part of Montgomery. Hall repeatedly asked for referrals outside Area 5 but never received them. Employees at Lowder Realty began to refer to Hall as the "expert in [Area 5]."
Agent terminated despite receiving "Top Sales Associate" three years in a row
Lowder employees also received referrals for persons who were relocating to the Montgomery area. Despite her qualifications, including three "Top Sales Associate" awards in 1994, 1995, and 1996, Hall only received two "relocation referrals" during her employment at Lowder Realty. Both referrals were African Americans. When Hall received one referral, Relocation Director Denise Haviland told her that the referral "need[ed] to work with a strong, black person, because her husband was a judge with the EEOC" and that she was "a strong black woman."
Hall complained to Haviland and Lowder managers and executives that she was only receiving African American clients. She told the managers and executives that she felt there was a perception within the company that she could only sell homes in African American neighborhoods. After Hall complained to Haviland, Hall never received another referral. After Hall complained to Lowder General Manager John Dorough, Lowder President Jerry Wills, and Colonial Company President James Lowder, she was fired. (Colonial Company is the parent corporation of Lowder Realty.)
African American clients treated poorly
Additionally, Hall asserted that Lowder terminated her at least in part because she complained about the poor treatment that three of Lowder Realtys African American customers received. An agent from Lowder Realty allegedly told African American clients not to look in a particular neighborhood, because they "couldnt afford it," even though the agent knew nothing of the clients finances.
An agent told another African American client that she was "ruining the integrity of the neighborhood" after she purchased a home in a predominantly white subdivision. Little or no disciplinary action was taken against the agents after Hall complained to management.
According to Leslie Proll of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., who represented Hall, the case carries significant precedent. "Real estate companies play a large role in perpetuating housing segregation. This case challenged the presumption held by many companies that black agents should work only with black customers and only in black areas." Second, the verdict "signals to real estate agents that they are protected by the Fair Housing Act from racial practices that limit their own opportunities as well as those of their customers."
Agent: "Justice prevailed."
Hall added, "Ive always tried to serve all the communities of Montgomery. Im grateful the jury recognized that Lowder frustrated those efforts, and that justice prevailed." The lawsuit was the first fair housing case on behalf of a real estate agent to be tried before a jury in the State of Alabama. "This victory highlights the fact that housing discrimination continues to be a serious problem in the Montgomery area," said Faith Cooper, executive director of the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center in Montgomery.
The Fair Housing Center previously sued Lowder Realty on behalf of one of Halls clients.
Hall v. Lowder Realty Co. (M.D. Ala. 1997)
Civil Action No. 97-T-1382-N
The Honorable Myron H. Thompson, Judge
Leslie Proll, NAACP Legal Defense and
Educational Fund; Attorney for the Plainiff