Landlord Who Refused to Rent to Woman with Tattoo Must Pay $30,990


Southern California Housing Rights Center
520 S. Virgil Ave., Suite 400
Los Angeles CA 90020

  Contact: Gary Rhoades, Litigation Director

Federal Judge Rules That Landlord Who Refused to Rent to Woman with Tattoo Must Pay $30,990 in Compensatory and Punitive Damages

(MONROVIA, Cal., Oct. 18,2002) - In a case where a landlord told a couple he had decided not to rent to them because the female partner had a tattoo, a federal judge has granted the two plaintiffs a permanent injunction and $30,990 in compensatory and punitive damages.

In Mankins et al v. Jim Gilbreath (#CV 01-9981AC (C.D. Cal. Oct. 2002) the plaintiffs sued the landlord in federal court, alleging that defendant discriminated against both persons on the basis of the female partner’s gender familial status. Specifically, the complaint alleged that defendant first promised his single family home to the couple but later left a voicemail message for the male partner at work stating the landlord decided to renege his promise once he saw her ankle tattoo. "When men wear tattoos, it’s different," Mr. Gilbreath informed the couple on the message, "but when women wear them, it’s an indication of not so high standards per se."

"The defendant’s voicemail message, which we played for the court, proved this case was about more than just the tattoo," said plaintiffs’ attorney Gary Rhoades. "In the past, landlords have lost fair housing cases when they tried to deny women housing by requiring other factors such as car ownership or certain marital status. This case revealed yet another strain of gender discrimination."

After the defendant’s repeated attempts to evade service (including a process server’s literal foot-chase across Monrovia lawns) and his refusal to appear in the case, HRC obtained terminating sanctions and a default judgment. Judge Audrey Collins agreed that Gilbreath’s actions and statement constituted housing discrimination based on gender and violated the federal and state Fair Housing Acts and California’s Unruh Act. A comprehensive injunctive relief package was issued, including a permanent injunction, affirmative advertising, educational program, record keeping, and reporting requirements.

On October 5, 2002 and after a hearing on damages, Judge Collins awarded the female applicant $12,495 and her male partner $3,495 in compensatory damages. Agreeing with plaintiffs that Gilbreath’s conduct was reckless and in blatant disregard for plaintiffs’ rights, the court also awarded the plaintiffs an additional $10,000 in punitive damages. The judge also stated the Southern California Housing Rights Center would be granted attorneys’ fees pending HRC’s motion.

Plaintiffs were represented by Gary Rhoades and Danielle Jones of HRC.