Religious bias charge leads to settlement over scroll

(Stamford, CT, Aug. 29, 2003) -- Alleging to be a violation of the by-laws, this past spring a condo association in Stamford, CT had ordered a Jewish couple to remove the religious scroll off their front door or risk paying a fine; now five months later, the association is the one having to pay and the amount is $4,000!

Elie and Ziona Doft- Orthodox Jews residing in the condominium complex known as "Washington Mews" - were appalled when they received notice that the association's Board of Directors had decided the mezuzah affixed to their front door must be taken down. A "mezuzah," which is only slightly bigger than a fountain pen, is an item containing a religious prayer placed at the outside of the home by Jewish families. It is not decorative but is rather mandated by the principles of the faith.

Although the Dofts attempted to explain to the association the purpose behind the mezuzah and the clear distinction between this object of great religious significance and some far more obtrusive item of decoration, the Board of Directors was still insistent upon its removal. And when the Dofts received word they would be fined if it wasn't removed immediately, they thought it was now necessary to take action in defense of their Jewish beliefs. They contacted the Anti-Defamation League and were, in turn, referred to the Fair Housing Association of Connecticut where they received assistance in filing a complaint of housing discrimination with the Connecticut Commission On Human Rights & Opportunities.

Joe Wincze- President of FHACT- indicated that the demand and threat made by the Washington Mews Condo Association to the Dofts caused the family to feel they might have to move elsewhere in order to be allowed to practice their faith without fear of being threatened or harassed. Wincze stated, "In essence, the actions by the association's Board of Directors had the effect of 'making housing unavailable' for the Doft family and that's an act of discrimination!"

Attorney Robert Kor of West Hartford represented the Dofts in their complaint filed with the CT Commission and recently was successful in negotiating a settlement which resolved the issue to the complainants' satisfaction. Not only has the Washington Mews Condo Association and its Board of Directors agreed to let the Dofts keep the mezuzah in place and given them a written apology, they have also agreed to pay the Doft's $4,000. as a means of settling the claim.

In addition, the Board has agreed to amend its policy to specifically allow the placement of mezuzahs outside one's front door, and Board members have also agreed to attend a training session to be conducted by the Anti-Defamation League. The written agreement signed between the parties does state that it is understood that there is no admission by the Washington Mews Condominium Association of any violation or liability of Connecticut or federal housing discrimination laws.

Wincze stated he had no problem with this clause being included in the settlement agreement. He remarked, "I believe we have made our point and a lesson has been learned-- unfortunately by some the hard way!"