$65,000 awarded to plaintiffs in Bourbonnais rental discrimination suit


18220 Harwood Avenue, Suite 1
Homewood, IL 60430

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E-mail: southsuburban@prodigy.net                                                                                                                                     
For Immediate Release                                                                                     
September 19, 2005

A federal lawsuit filed jointly by the U. S. Department of Justice, South Suburban Housing Center of Homewood, and Kankakee area residents, Le’Jon and Vanessa Shepard, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act’s family status and race discrimination provisions, was resolved earlier this month.  The Federal District Court Consent Order entered in Urbana, requires the defendant owners/managers of a 32-unit apartment complex on Lindsey Lane in Bourbonnais, Mr. and Mrs. W. Russell Smith, to pay $65,000 in damages.

The Shepards, a bi-racial couple, had attempted to rent an apartment that the defendants had advertised as available in March 2001.  Vanessa Shepard, who is white, set up an appointment, and was shown the unit by Mr. Smith, accompanied by her African-American husband, Le’Jon.  The Shepards immediately indicated interest in renting and submitted an application the next day, but were told that the apartment had already been rented to someone who had seen the unit before them.  Suspecting that they had been victimized by racial bias, the Shepards sought the assistance of South Suburban Housing Center.  The Housing Center, a private fair housing enforcement and advocacy agency serving the south metro region, investigated the Shepard’s complaint by sending teams of volunteer “testers” posing as apartment seekers to the defendant’s complex to monitor their treatment.  When SSHC’s tests found evidence of discrimination based on both race and families with children, a formal complaint was filed with the U S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

In September 2004, HUD determined that reasonable cause for a violation existed from the defendants’, “conduct and statements.”  The U.S. Department of Justice, on November 15, 2004, filed the present lawsuit when the defendants elected to have the case heard in Federal Court.  Since the action was initially brought, the defendants have sold their interest in the complex and moved out of state.  Because of the defendant’s divestiture of rental property ownership, the plaintiffs agreed to only seek monetary remedies.

SSHC’s Executive Director, John Petruszak, stated that “the size of this settlement shows that the evidence of discriminatory conduct was quite clear and that HUD’s affirmation of the Fair Housing Act violation and the Department of Justice’s swift prosecution were key elements in obtaining meaningful relief for the victims”.

Investigation activities conducted by South Suburban Housing Center are funded in part by a Fair Housing Initiatives Program grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The private plaintiffs were represented by Jeffrey L. Taren, of the Chicago based firm of Kinoy, Taren & Geraghty, P.C.