Los Angeles federal jury awards $500,000 to mixed-race family denied rental house

The Mitchell-Young family, a mixed race family that attempted to rent a home in Los Angeles, will collect $252,002 in judgments from Isaac Soleyman, a landlord who denied them a rental house because one member of their family was African American. A federal jury had awarded the family $500,000, but the figure was later reduced by U.S. District Judge Howard Matz. In a ruling reducing the award, Judge Matz claimed that the Plaintiffs had not proven that the children had been injured sufficiently to deserve $125,000 each in damages. Shortly after the trial, however, Judge Matz did award the family $187,734 in attorneys’ fees and $10,494.87 in costs. 

Sean and Jennifer Mitchell, and their sons, Quinn Mitchell and Bernard Young, filed their federal lawsuit after Isaac Soleyman told them that he would not rent them a house, because Bernard is African American.  At a site visit to one of Soleyman’s properties, he referred to Bernard as a "Section 8 kid," a "real South Central kid," and an "L.A. kid all the way." Soleyman also asked Sean Mitchell why he had adopted "kid like [Bernard]" when he already had such a beautiful son. Mr. Mitchell explained that he had been adopted and that he and his wife had always planned to adopt a child even though they could have biological children.

At one point during the visit to the house, Soleyman stated that he would not have the house inspected. Mr. Mitchell asked him what kind of inspection he meant. Soleyman stated that the house was not approved for a "Section 8 kid." Mr. Mitchell stated that Bernard was not a Section 8 kid. Soleyman then accused Mr. Mitchell of lying by saying that Bernard was his son. Mr. Mitchell stated that he was Bernard’s legal guardian, and that he and his wife were in the process of legally adopting Bernard.

Soleyman then stated that he had noticed that Mr. Mitchell offered to rent the house for $1500. He stated that the house was expensive, and that he did not like Mr. Mitchell’s offer. Soleyman asked Mr. Mitchell if he had more money. Mr. Mitchell said that the money was not a problem and would pay the full rent of $1,800. At first, Sean and Jennifer Mitchell were confused by Soleyman’s comments. Eventually, however, they came to understand what Soleyman was getting at. Jennifer Mitchell asked Soleyman if he was denying their application because Bernard was African American, and Soleyman said yes. He then asked the family to leave the premises. Less than two weeks later, Soleyman rented the house to an all-white family. Jennifer Mitchell said that she was "shocked" that Soleyman made comments about her son’s race while he was in the room. "Both of our sons were in the room when he made these comments. My older son became very quiet on the ride home, and my younger son asked, ‘Why is that man so mean?’ I had to explain that some people are scared of people who are different."

Jennifer Mitchell said that she and her husband decided to file a complaint when one of her neighbors saw her crying following the visit to Soleyman’s rental house. "She told me that I should expose this guy. That’s when we called the Fair Housing Council."

The Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley investigated the Mitchell-Young family’s complaint. The Fair Housing Council conducted interviews of the parties and referred the family to Brancart and Brancart, a California law firm specializing in discrimination issues.

Mother proud of nation’s fair housing laws

After a trial, the jury found in favor of the Mitchell-Young family on all counts. "Just hearing the jury read the verdict aloud was amazing. I’m proud to live in a country where this law protects people from discrimination," Jennifer Mitchell said.

Mrs. Mitchell urged other victims of housing discrimination to come forward. "After we filed our lawsuit, other people came out with complaints against [Soleyman]," she said. "I come from a small town where no one wants to fight, but more people should file complaints. It is amazing how much support there is."

Althought Sean and Jennifer Mitchell were very happy with the verdict, Mrs. Mitchell felt it was unfair for Judge Matz to reduce the award amounts to her sons. "Our sons were in the room when [Soleyman] said these things to us. They were younger (in 2000), but they had an understanding of what was going on."

Judge Matz disagreed and said that the boys, who were four years old and two years old at the time, couldn’t have understood what was happening. Judge Matz wrote in his opinion that the incident in question lasted "only a few minutes and involved no physical conduct (sic), much less injury." In order to avoid a new trial, the family accepted the judge’s decision to lower the awards to Bernard and Quinn.

Mitchell v. Soleyman
Case No. CV 00-12951 AHM (CTx) 
U.S. District Court, Central District of California
Liza Cristol-Denman, Christopher Brancart, and Elizabeth Brancart, Attorneys for Complainant