Illinois women and South Suburban Housing Center share in $45,000 racial discrimination settlement

Shirley Stevens, an African American woman from Cook County; the South Suburban Housing Center (SSHC); and two of the Center’s African American testers agreed to the terms of a February 2003 Consent Order to settle a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by John Gronski, Sr. and Mary Gronski, the owners of several rental properties in suburban Chicago. The Defendants agreed to pay $45,000 in cash for Plaintiffs’ damages and attorneys’ fees. The Consent Order also requires the Gronskis to attend fair housing training and to maintain detailed records of the persons who apply to rent from them.

In October 2002, Shirley Stevens saw a “For Rent” sign in front of the Gronskis’ apartment building on Ridgeland Avenue in Worth, Illinois. Stevens spoke with Mr. Gronski about the apartment, and he claimed that the apartment would not be ready for one month due to some maintenance work that needed to be done.

The next day, Stevens contacted SSHC, asserting that she felt she had been misled by Mr. Gronski. SSHC conducted two tests for racial discrimination. In both tests, African American testers were lied to about the availability of the apartment on Ridgeland Avenue, while white testers were able to make appointments and view the apartment. The Defendants also told one of the white testers about the availability of other units in the Defendants’ other buildings.

Represented by Attorney Jeffrey Taren, the Plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit against the Gronskis on October 31, 2002. In a pre-trial conference, Stevens explained how the Gronskis’ actions dredged up memories of another encounter with racial discrimination that Stevens faced nearly 40 years earlier.

A painful reminder of past racial discrimination

When Stevens was in her 20s, she and her mother were on their way home after her mother’s chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Traveling via bus, and having to transfer several times, Stevens’ mother became dehydrated. Stevens and her mother went into a restaurant on the south side of Chicago, and a waitress refused to serve them a glass of water. In the conference, Stevens recalled the “look of hate” on the waitress’s face. She said she never saw that look again, until she met Mr. Gronski.

SSHC Executive Director John Petruszak said Stevens’ experience caused her “gut-wrenching emotional damage.” He added, “I can’t believe these things are still going on, and a qualified African American individual has to endure this type of humiliation.”

Petruszak praised Taren for his negotiation skills and said that Taren’s work was a key factor in the quick resolution of the case. Petruszak also noted that the Gronskis’ son would be taking over the family’s business, and that SSHC would train him in fair housing requirements.

Stevens v. Gronski
Case No. 02-C-7872 (N.D. Ill.)
The Honorable Wayne R. Andersen, U.S. District Judge
Jeffrey L. Taren, attorney for Plaintiffs
Federal complaint filed: October 31, 2002
Settlement Agreement: February 27, 2003