Eleventh Circuit panel upholds $70,000 award in Florida couple's racial discrimination complaint

A $70,000 judgment for racial discrimination awarded by a United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Administrative Law Judge has been upheld by an 11th Circuit panel. The panel's February ruling clears the way for a Florida couple to receive the monetary award from a husband and wife property owner who discriminated against them.

African-American couple lost home in Hurricane Andrew, woman later became disabled

Steve Times and Betty Brinson, an African-American couple, saw their home destroyed several years ago by Hurricane Andrew. The hurricane had created a drastic housing shortage throughout Florida and Times and Brinson had a difficult time locating another place to live. After being forced to stay in a hotel for a short time, Brinson was injured in an accident at the hotel and her mobility was impaired. Times and Brinson desperately searched for a home that would accommodate Brinson's physical impairments.

After scouring the housing market once more, Times located a one-bedroom rental house owned by Annette and Janos Banai. The Banais refused to rent the house to Times and Brinson because they were African-American.

Times and Brinson filed an administrative complaint with HUD. After a Charge of Discrimination was issued, Times, Brinson, and the Banais presented evidence in a hearing before an administrative law judge. The judge ordered the Banais to pay the couple $70,000, $35,000 to Times and $35,000 to Brinson, in compensatory damages. The administrative law judge ruled that the actions taken by the Banais had caused Times and Brinson emotional distress, humiliation, lost housing opportunity, and had damaged their relationship.

Respondents claimed award was excessive but did not deny discriminating against couple

The Banais did not appeal HUD's finding of discrimination of the administrative law judge's ruling, but did appeal the amount of the damage award. The Banais argued that $70,000 was excessive for a racial discrimination claim.

The 11th Circuit panel rejected the Banais' claims and upheld the amount awarded by the HUD administrative law judge. Judge Gerald Tjoflat wrote the panel's opinion, asserting that the award had been based on the evidence presented during the administrative hearing.

Acts of racial discrimination added to the emotional devastation suffered by the couple    

The panel pointed to several key facts in the case. Times and Brinson suffered emotional devastation when they lost their home and many of their valuables in the hurricane. There was an extreme housing shortage following the hurricane. Times and Brinson had few housing options and the Banais' house would have accommodated Brinson's injuries. When the Banais rejected them based solely on the color of their skin, they added to the emotional devastation suffered by the couple. These facts, according to the panel, all supported the amount of the damage award.