DC condo association pays $550,000 in race/sex case

The Carrollsburg Condominium Unit Owners Association will pay $550,000 to an African-American condo owner to settle charges that the association did not go far enough to protect her from racial and sexual harassment. The June settlement also calls for the condominium owners association to buy the woman's condo back from her for $52,000.

Harassment became so severe that woman feared going home

Deborah Reeves, an African-American attorney, moved into southwest Washington's Carrollsburg Condominium complex in 1981. In 1989, she met Thomas Schongalla, a white man who also lived at the complex. Schongalla made it clear that he did not like Reeves. He allegedly shouted racial epithets and made sexual comments to her continuously. Reeve stold the Washington Post that the harassment became so severe and so intimidating that she hated to go home at all.

Schongalla would catch Reeves in the complex's common areas and make threatening gestures and remarks. Reeves told the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington about encounters she had with Schongalla in the complex's parking lots, lobby, and laundry rooms. In August 1993, Schongalla left a note for Reeves at the front desk of their building. Among other things, it said, "See you in the backyard hanging from a tree."

Reeves complained to the condo association and asked them to take action against Schongalla. Reeves asked the association to do something to stop the harassment, but the association made no move, even though authorities convicted Schongalla on charges of making threats against Reeves.

Reeves said that she wanted the association to buy Schongalla's condo from him to get him out of the complex. At the very least, Reeves expected the association to take some sort of action to stop the harassment she was enduring. The association did write letters to Schongalla, but did nothing to ensure that he stopped harassing Reeves.

Because the association did next to nothing to stop Schongalla from harassing her, Reeves took her complaint to the Fair Housing Council. The Council helped Reeves file a federal lawsuit against the association, alleging that the association had violated the Fair Housing Act because it took no action against Schongalla. The Council's activities are partially funded by HUD's Fair Housing Initiatives Program.

The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs agreed to represent Reeves, with the firm of Covington & Burling, which took the case for free. According to the Washington Post, Reeves' attorneys saw this case as a way to hold condo associations to the same set of rules that apartment complex owners must follow. In the case, federal district Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled that condo owners have the rightto sue associations under the Fair Housing Act.

Defendant admits his dislike for "aggressive" Blacks, feminists, and Jews during deposition

Schongalla admitted to Reeves' attorneys that he did not like certain types of people. The Washington Post reported that during his deposition for the lawsuit, lawyers asked Schongalla whether he considers himself ethnically biased. "I do," he replied. "I have had enough Blacks, enough aggressive feminist women and enough aggressive Jews for two lifetimes."

The association admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to settle the matter. Schongalla, although not financially liable, was ordered by the court to honor his neighbors' rights to live peacefully. Schongalla still lives in the complex with his wife and their two children.

Reeves now lives in northwestern Washington.