Justice prevails in Zanesville water case

July 23, 2008 - On July 10, 2008, a U.S. district court jury in Columbus, Ohio found the City of Zanesville and Muskingum County guilty of racial discrimination for denying public water service to persons who presently reside and/or have lived in the predominately African-American neighborhood of Coal Run Road and Langan Lane near the City of Zanesville. The jury found in favor of the 68 plaintiffs, including the Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA), which was awarded $80,000 as a part of the total $10.9 million damages award. The lawsuit was filed in 2003 with representation by the law firm of Relman & Dane.

“Justice has prevailed,” said Vincent B. Curry, Executive Director of FHAA. “I am overjoyed that our clients have been vindicated and compensated for having been denied the simple right to access the same public water service that was being provided to their white neighbors.”

In 2002, FHAA initiated an investigation after it received a complaint that public water service was being denied to the primarily African-American neighborhood of Coal Run Road and Langan Lane, while it was being provided to primarily Caucasian homes surrounding the area. FHAA’s investigation confirmed the allegation. “The best way to describe what the evidence showed would be to use a doughnut with the doughnut representing the white neighborhoods and the hole representing the Coal Run –Langan Lane area,” said Mr. Curry. “The doughnut had public water service and the hole did not. It is depressing to think that if we had not pursued this matter, they would still have no public water service.” Before the complaint was filed, residents had no public water service and had to drink, bathe, and wash in water that contained bugs and had an odor; haul in water to be placed in a cistern; and ration water by sharing bath water and limiting the number of times that a toilet was flushed. 

The jury examined the evidence and found that both the city and the county played a role in providing water service in ways that included, but not limited to, securing funding for water projects, determining what water projects were pursued, controlling who could tap into water lines and running water lines past Coal Run Road and Langan Lane in order to provide water to other cities, villages, or townships. According to Cindy Hairston, a plaintiff who lives on Coal Run, “When we saw Vince’s maps during a meeting at the public library, it became clear that the white folks had public water service and the blacks folks did not.” Said lead plaintiff, Jerry Kennedy, whose family lived in the area for over 50 years, “It was upsetting to look out my window and see my neighbor water his lawn and I had to haul my water in for all these years.” 

“The civil rights community is celebrating this outstanding verdict,” said Shanna Smith, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “For 50 years, the African-American residents of Coal Run have been on a quest for equality and fairness. Yesterday, an Ohio jury delivered it to them. Thanks to the hard work of Vince Curry of the Fair Housing Advocates, and John Relman and Reed Colfax of Relman & Dane, we are closer to achieving the dream that Dr. King envisioned for all of us.” According to published reports, the defendants plan to appeal the decision.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits municipalities and other governmental entities from providing services and programs in a manner that discriminates on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national original, handicap or familial status. ###

About the Fair Housing Advocates Association (www.fairhousingadvocates.com) Incorporated in 1993, the Fair Housing Advocates Association is an Akron, Ohio-based private, non-profit corporation that provides an array of programs and services designed to eliminate housing discrimination through counseling, education, advocacy, research, and enforcement of fair housing laws. In addition, it provides housing and tenant-landlord counseling to housing providers, tenants, and the general public. The Association is an operating member of the National Fair Housing Alliance.