Racial voice profiling costs Illinois landlords $10,000 in settlement with HOPE Fair Housing Center

The HOPE Fair Housing Center in Wheaton, Illinois has accepted $10,000 to settle a racial discrimination complaint involving “racial voice profiling.” The Center accused housing providers Mark and Sophia Romano of discriminating against homeseekers who sounded African American on the telephone. The Romanos will be required to attend a HOPE fair housing training session and submit to a testing program conducted by the Center.

The Romanos own and manage two apartment buildings in Mount Prospect, Illinois. HOPE performed a fair housing audit of the Romano’s properties in 2001 using African American and white telephone testers. The testers’ voices were confirmed to sound African American or sound white according to a community panel assembled by HOPE. The tests conducted used two African American female testers and three white female testers.

African Americans were deceived, discouraged

HOPE’s audit of the Romanos yielded evidence that testers who sounded African American were treated differently than the testers who sounded white. Specifically, African American testers were discouraged from applying or told that apartments were not available. White testers were encouraged to apply and given truthful information about unit availability.

After reviewing the results of the testing, HOPE filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD investigators agreed with HOPE’s analysis of the tests and issued a probable cause finding. In February 2002, HUD Secretary Mel Martinez then issued a Charge of Discrimination. The case was assigned to HUD Administrative Law Judge William C. Cregar but settled in July 2002, prior to a full administrative hearing.

Editor's note (Feb. 20, 2008):  By entering into the settlement, the Romanos did not admit to liability in the case.