Suburban Philly center wins advertising case

In a stunning defeat for the newspaper, Realtor and real estate industries in Pennsylvania, a federal court ruled that a local fair housing group has the legal right to sue a newspaper and those who advertise in it for publishing discriminatory housing advertising. decisions issued last Spring which had denied standing to a fair housing group, the trial court found that the Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia was injured by the newspaper’s actions. The Council was “forced to...divert [] itself from its counseling and education activities and begin a prolonged investigation of the Mercury to identify the extent and nature of the Mercury’s discriminatory activity.” The Council also had to “counteract the effects of the allegedly discriminatory ads” by having to “teach the law, the meaning of the law, and the method to follow the law” to various newspaper, Realtor, and landlord trade groups and companies due, in part, to the over one thousand allegedly discriminatory ads published over several years by the Mercury.

The Court found that the very specific detail provided by the Council of its injury met the requirements of the two new appellate court decisions. Those decisions stated that the courts “were committed to the laudable goal advanced by the [Council]; eliminating discrimination in housing is vitally important” and that their rulings “should not restrict or impede in any meaningful way the ability of these organizations to combat violations of the [Fair Housing] Act.”

The lower court yesterday applied those words and will permit the trial to proceed against the Goodson newspaper, The Mercury, for publishing over 1,182 advertisements alleged to discriminate against families with children. One of the advertisers, William J. Hnath Corp., will also stand trial. Another defendant advertiser in this case, Gilbert Real Estate, settled with the Council in 1997 and is under court order not to publish discriminatory ads.

Mr. James Berry, the Council’s Executive Director, stated today that, “We are pleased the court has upheld us in our effort to rid housing advertising of discriminatory messages. Of late, the newspaper, Realtor and real estate industries have been working hard at cleaning up such advertising so it does not target people for exclusion. It is unfortunate that a few in those industries still wish to fight us and refuse to accept responsibility for their years of harmful conduct. For those few, we will continue to press our rights and the rights of the community to fair housing.”

The case is The Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia v. The Mercury, Peerless Publications, Inc., Barry Hopwood, Mary Ann Edleman, Gilbert Real Estate, Carol Gorey, Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, Inc., William J. Hnath, William J. Hnath Corp., 96-CV-1382, U.S. Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, filed August 18, 1998, Judge Clifford Scott Green. The Clerk of the Court may be reached at (215) 597-7704; opinion also available from the plaintiff’s attorney.

Attorney for fair housing group Plaintiff: Clifford A. Boardman
(215) 568-9900
Attorney for the newspaper Defendant: Gregory Harvey of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius,
(215) 963-5000

Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia
225 South Chester Road, Suite 1
Swarthmore, PA 19081
Contact: Clifford A. Boardman
Phone: (215) 568-9900
Fax: (215) 568-4546