Georgia Commission gets Florida woman to pay $58,663 in its first ever civil court judgment

The Chatham County (Georgia) Superior Court entered a judgment, in February, ruling infavor of an African-American woman who had been denied a chance to rent a home. The Courtordered the defendant to pay compensatory damages to the plaintiff in the amount of$50,000, a civil penalty of $5,000, and attorney's fees of $3663. The Court also issued apermanent injunction that bars the defendant from committing future discrimination.

Georgia'scivil rights commission gets its first civil court judgment

The judgment came in the first case filed by the Georgia Commission on EqualOpportunity (GCEO) and the Georgia Attorney General's Office to reach a civil courtverdict under the Georgia Fair Housing Law. The judgment was a default judgment, as thedefendant, a Florida woman who owned 17 rental properties in the Savannah area, refused todefend herself against the charges of discrimination. She told a GCEO investigator that itwas "too bad the little girly got her feelings hurt, but I don't have time to dealwith this."

In April 1994, Nila Nash was a student at Savannah State College. She was looking forhousing when she discovered an ad in a local paper for a unit at one of the rentalproperties owned by Lou Chennault, a Florida landlord. The property was a converted house.Two white, female students already lived in the house.

The two students who already lived in Chennault's house attempted to find a tenant forthe third unit after Chennault offered them a rent break if they would do so. Nash metwith the two students who lived in the house. They discussed the rent and the propertyrules. The two other women showed Nash the unit available and Nash agreed to move into thehouse.

African-American woman told to leave five days after she moved into house

Nash moved into the house on April 22, 1994. On April 27, one of the other femaletenants told Nash that the owner had called and wanted Nash out of the house. Chennaulthad planned to be in Savannah during the first week of May and wanted Nash out before shegot there.

"I can't have a Black girl living in my house. Parents don't want their littledarlings living with a Black girl."

--- Lou Chennault

Savannah, GA landlord

Nash asked her roommate why Chennault wanted her to leave. The roommate respondedthat Chennault had been happy to find that the third unit had been rented, but then askedif Nash was African-American. When the roommate told Chennault that Nash wasAfrican-American, Chennault became angry.

According to the one of the white roommates, Chennault said, "I can't have a Blackgirl living in my house. Parents don't want their little darlings living with a Blackgirl." Chennault then instructed the roommate to have Nash leave.

Landlord refused to cooperate during trial

Nash filed a complaint with the GCEO. During an investigation, the two white womenliving in the house fully supported Nash's allegations. Chennault refused to cooperatewith the GCEO.

Near the end of 1995, Mustafa Aziz, the Administrator of the GCEO, issued a Charge ofDiscrimination against Chennault. GCEO then referred the complaint to the Georgia AttorneyGeneral's Office. The Attorney General sued Chennault on Nash's behalf in Superior Court.The Attorney General alleged two violations of the Georgia Fair Housing Law: refusal torent and the making of discriminatory statements.

Throughout the pre-trial discovery process, Chennault refused to respond to the State'sdiscovery requests. Chennault's non-cooperation eventually led to sanctions from theCourt.

During the trial, Senior Assistant Attorney General Alan Gantzhorn represented theState. Attorney Mark Cicero, GCEO's Fair Housing Division manager, assisted Gantzhorn inthe case. Superior Court Judge Charles Mikell presided over the hearing in the case.