Mobile, AL apartment owner and manager agree to pay $360,000 in DOJ race and family status case

The owners and former manager of a Mobile, Alabama apartment complex will pay $360,000 to settle a Justice Department lawsuit alleging racial and familial status discrimination. The defendants will pay $205,000 into a fund to be paid out to the currently unidentified victims of racial or familial status discrimination. The Mobile Fair Housing Center will receive $20,000 and will conduct testing of the defendants’ rental  properties for at least one year following the settlement.

Deanna Watkins, one of the original complainants, will receive $85,000 in the settlement. The remaining $50,000 will go to Danean and Rodney Lofton, two other named victims in
the lawsuit.

Owner gave orders to managers indicating he did not want African Americans or families in his apartments

In its federal complaint, the Department of Justice alleged that since at least 1992, Ralph R. Johnson, the owner of the Carriage Inn Apartments in Mobile, has had a policy and practice of denying apartments to African Americans and families with young children. Allegedly, he had instructed the on-site managers of the Carriage Inn Apartments not to allow black persons or children to live there. The managers – including Dawn Stockton, who is named as a defendant in the suit – carried out these instructions by representing to African Americans and families with young children that no apartments were available when apartments were in fact available and by simply refusing to rent apartments to African American applicants or families with young children.

The Mobile Fair Housing Center tested the Carriage Inn Apartments and confirmed that Stockton falsely denied that apartments were available to African Americans while telling white persons of available apartments and allowing them the opportunity to rent apartments.

Under the settlement, the defendants agree to participate in fair housing training conducted by the Mobile Fair Housing Center and to place advertisements in the Mobile Press Register notifying the public that they do not discriminate in the terms and  conditions of rental at any of their properties.

The defendants agreed to notify all of their current tenants about the charges of discrimination against them and to let their tenants know that they did not discriminate
on the basis of race or familial status. The notice must include the following text: “Ralph R. Johnson has settled a lawsuit which alleged that certain employees were discriminating against African Americans and families with children who sought to rent apartments at Carriage Inn Apartments, Chateau Apartments, and Country Club Apartments.” New rules and policies for applications and waiting lists will be drafted and submitted to the Justice
Department.

The defendants also agreed to have their Mississippi rental properties tested during the 12 months following the settlement. Should the test results indicate additional
discrimination has occurred, the court will require an additional twelve months of rental testing. The Mobile Fair Housing Center will carry out the testing under the terms of
the agreement.

Former manager must notify the U.S. government if she intends to manage properties again

Stockton is not currently involved in the ownership or management of residential rental properties. Under the settlement agreement, if she resumes such involvement at
any time during the term of the Consent Order, she must notify the United States within thirty days of doing so and must comply with all provisions of the Consent Order.

Teresa Fox Bettis, the executive director of the Mobile Fair Housing Center, applauded the settlement but was disappointed that such discrimination still occurred in Mobile.

“Here in Mobile, discrmination is often done with a smile and a handshake. When Ms. Watkins came to our office, I was made all the more aware that there is still a lot
of work to be done. We will use the settlement monies to continue educating the public about fair housing,” she said.

Justice Department attorneys Ellen Bowden and Rebecca Bond represented the United States in this case. They were assisted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama.

United States v. Johnson
Civil Action No. 01-478-CB-M
U.S. District Court, Southern District of Alabama