Race Discrimination Case Settled

Wheaton, Illinois -- The owner of a 2 flat apartment located in Berwyn, Illinois pays $30,000 to settle a race discrimination complaint. In 1997, Marilyn and HOPE Fair Housing Center filed complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] alleging that Brian Shepard violated fair housing laws by refusing to rent or negotiate for the rental of apartments based upon race. HOPE and Marilyn were represented by Jeffrey Taren of Kinoy, Taren, Geraghty and Potter, P.C, Chicago, Illinois. Marilyn wanted to move out of the dangerous neighborhood in which she lived, and wanted to find an apartment somewhere safe and close to her place of work. When she was able to find a place, her teenage daughter would move with her, and Marilyn's son wanted to join the military and leave Chicago. Marilyn viewed the Berwyn apartment and decided that it suited her needs in terms of location, price and size. When Marilyn indicated to Shepard that she was interested in the apartment, he stated that he would drop off an application for her. He did not. Subsequent calls were not returned. The apartment continued to be advertised for the next few weeks.

When Brian Shepard refused to deal with Marilyn or rent her an apartment, Marilyn became discouraged and decided to save money, buy a house and avoid encountering more discrimination in the rental market. Marilyn's son chose to stay with Marilyn in Chicago because he didn't want to leave his mother alone in an unsafe area.

Marilyn eventually moved to a safer neighborhood, but not soon enough. Not long after she was denied the apartment in Berwyn, her son was shot and killed, in an act of random violence, one block from the home Marilyn was trying to leave. She lost her son because she lost the apartment, all because of the color of her skin. She lost all of this because of illegal housing discrimination.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo said, "I hope this settlement sends an important message to landlords around the nation that we will have zero tolerance for housing discrimination. We will never come together as a nation until we learn to live together as people."

When the apartment continued to be advertised and Brian Shepard refused to deal with Marilyn, Marilyn's case was referred to HOPE. HOPE investigated and tested this complaint. HOPE testing revealed that a white tester was given the opportunity to rent the apartment in question. She was told to call Shepard's credit reporting company and apply over the phone. The African-American tester was told an application would be mailed to her. No application was ever sent. Shepard never returned the calls of the African-American tester, and never gave her an opportunity to apply for the apartment. After HOPE's investigation was completed, complaints were filed with HUD for both Marilyn and HOPE Fair Housing Center. HUD's investigation revealed that Shepard eventually rented the apartment to two white males, more than three months after Marilyn expressed an interest in the apartment.

In November, 1998, HUD's Office of Counsel issued a Charge of Discrimination against Brian Shepard. The case was scheduled to be tried in April of 1999. After the charge was issued, Brian Shepard engaged in settlement negotiations with Marilyn, HOPE and HUD. In February, 1999, Brian Shepard agreed to pay Marilyn and HOPE a total of $30,000. In addition, Brian Shepard agreed to an injunction prohibiting him from discriminating in the future, requiring him to affirmatively advertise using the fair housing logo, requiring him to attend fair housing training, and also mandating that he keep detailed records of future inquiries about his rental, which will be provided to HOPE for monitoring purposes.

Marilyn says that the lesson from this should be "don't judge a book by the cover. You should open it and view the contents before you judge. Picture this, a previous landlord came and looked at where I was living at the time to determine whether to rent to me. Based upon the information he got from seeing the way I lived, I guess it was enough for him to decide to rent to me. He didn't just judge me by the color of my skin, but how I am as an individual. There are good and bad in every race, color and creed. You have to view the contents to know the good from the bad. Stereotypes have got to stop."

The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against a person because of their race in the rental of housing. The Act bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. It covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation.

In announcing the settlement, Bernard Kleina, Executive Director of HOPE Fair Housing Center, stated that "this victory is the result of an alliance between HUD and HOPE Fair Housing Center, working together to eradicate housing discrimination whenever and wherever it occurs. This successful ongoing alliance brings hope to many who are victimized by housing discrimination."

President Clinton is asking Congress for increased funding to fight housing discrimination. The Administration's 2000 budget proposes $47 million, a 17 percent increase, for Fair Housing activities at HUD such as the work that HOPE Fair Housing Center did on this case.

HUD's current Fiscal Year 1999 Fair Housing Activity budget jumped to $40 million from last year's total of $30 million.