Judge upholds federal jury award of $100,500 in race case

Action Center

For Immediate Release
Date: March 6, 2002
Contact: Jeffrey May/Stacy Seicshnaydre
Phone: 504 596-2100
Fax: 504 596-2004

A federal judge in New Orleans left intact a $100,500 jury award in a housing discrimination case filed against a Lakeview landlord. The eight-member jury, drawn from a thirteen-parish area including Jefferson, Orleans, Terrebone, and St. Tammany Parishes, reached a verdict on Thursday, January 24, 2002. The jury found that Walter Case discriminated against Lisa Lincoln and Don Weaver, an interracial couple who had attempted to rent an apartment from Mr. Case in November 1999. The jury awarded Mr. Weaver $100,000 in punitive damages and $500 in compensatory damages.

Lawyers for Mr. Case moved to dismiss the case, asked for a new trial, and alternatively asked for a reduction in damages. The Honorable Ginger Berrigan, United States District Court Judge, denied all motions, citing great respect for the jury's decision and the serious nature of discrimination actions. She interpreted the jury's award to be aimed at sending a message to this landlord and others who would violate the fair housing laws. Both punishment and deterrence are appropriate functions of punitive damages awards.

The lawsuit, filed in the Spring of 2001, alleged that Mr. Case refused Ms. Lincoln and Mr. Weaver an apartment and lied about its availability because of Mr. Weaver's race. The lawsuit further alleged that Mr. Case told Ms. Lincoln on the telephone that the apartment on 5458 General Diaz Street was available, but said he held a deposit on it after Ms. Lincoln arrived to view the apartment with Mr. Weaver, who is African American. The lawsuit further alleged that when Ms. Lincoln asked a co-worker, who is white, to call on the property several days later, he was told it was still available. The couple then contacted the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (FHAC) to file a complaint. FHAC, a private, non-profit fair housing organization, conducted an investigation, which substantiated the complaint.

FHAC arranged for a white tester to contact Mr. Case on December 8, 1999. The tester was told that a unit was available and was given an appointment to view the unit the following day. Later that evening, an African American tester was told that the apartment had been rented. The following morning, the white tester was shown the unit. That evening, another African American tester was told the apartment was rented. Twenty minutes later, another white tester was told the unit was still available.

FHAC eventually referred Ms. Lincoln and Mr. Weaver to Robert McKnight, Esq. who, along with Maureen Jennings, represented the plaintiffs during the trial.

"It feels good to think that a jury of my peers believed that my civil rights were important," said Don Weaver, one of the plaintiffs and a veteran of the Army and Coast Guard. "I think we can pull together more as a community when we know that our civil rights laws will be enforced."

"Although the enforcement process was not always easy, I believe that our commitment to proceed with this complaint was absolutely necessary in breaking down the barrier of housing discrimination. Hopefully, the positive result reached in this case will encourage other people to stand up for their rights," said Lisa Lincoln, one of the plaintiffs.

According to Jeffrey May, FHAC’s Executive Director, "We are appreciative of Don Weaver and Lisa Lincoln for coming forward and courageously confronting housing discrimination, when it would have been all too easy to walk away. The resolution of this case reminds us all that housing discrimination is wrong, it's hurtful, and it can be addressed."

FHAC also announced the resolution of two additional housing discrimination matters filed in federal court, which will be the subject of a separate announcement.

FHAC is funded in part by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Housing Initiatives Program grant.

Anyone with any information concerning a discriminatory housing practice can call the Fair Housing Action Center at 596-2100.