Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia Settles $102,000 Rental Case For Black Minister

A Delaware County, Pennsylvania couple has agreed to pay $102,000 to an African American family that claimed they were denied the opportunity to rent a home in Upper Darby for racial reasons.

The settlement filed on behalf of Rev. Charles and Carolyn Heyward against John and Sandra Stouffer was reached just days before the case was scheduled to be heard in U.S. Federal District Court by Judge Robert Gawthrop.

Heyward an African American pastor who moved from Georgia to head, the Calvin Presbyterian Church, 60th and Master streets, in Philadelphia, was awarded $102,000 in March as part of a settlement for a housing discrimination lawsuit filed in 1990.

Heyward alleged that because they were African American, he, his wife Carolyn, and their two children, Susan, 9, and Charles Jr., 16, were denied a home on Wembly Road in Upper Darby.

Two weeks earlier, the Heywards settled a similar lawsuit in which they alleged they had been turned away from another house in Upper Darby, owned by Francis and Lorraine Junker of Lansdowne. The terms of that suit are confidential.

The State Human Relations Commission had found "probable cause" for a discrimination case in both instances. The Stouffers admitted to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission that they had "stretched the truth" to "soften the blow."

Move to Excellent Schools

In the lawsuit involving the Stouffers, the Heywards said they had wanted to live in Upper Darby because they heard the township had an excellent school system. The suit alleged that in June 1990 the Stouffers told the Heywards they had lost out on the home to an elderly couple from the neighborhood.

In a letter, the Stouffers claimed they had been "barraged by applications" for the property and that the elderly couple was chosen because they did not have a car and "desperately needed" access to transportation, the suit said. When, in fact, it had been rented to a 31 year-old single, white male.

The Heywards found a comparable home in Ardmore, where they now live. But the home costs $255 more a month than they would have had to pay in Upper Darby.

From his Church in West Philadelphia, Heyward said he was "extremely pleased with the terms of the settlement."

"Yes, we are very satisfied with it, primarily because the information on their housing practices goes public," he said. "We are also satisfied because the Stouffers must change their practices, and thirdly because the kids don't have to expend any more emotion than they already had. This whole ordeal has meant an emotional rollercoaster for me and my family."

He added that the whole incident has created an "emotional emptiness and internal void" that has left serious scars on his children, ages nine and 16 years.

"My son Charles, Jr., has to learn to trust people all over again," Heyward said. "He still has problems accepting this."

In an interview, Heyward declined to call the settlement a victory. "There's no victory in racial discrimination," he said. "We would hope that it sends the message to those that discriminate that it can be expensive."

Upper Darby Will Change

"Upper Darby," he said, "will change, either for the better or for the worse. Those who discriminate will learn to do it more sophisticatedly. But there will also be those that suffer the experience that won't just go home and let it rest."

On a more positive note, he said. "I hope that the residents of Upper Darby can come to appreciate cultural diversity and make the community more of what America should be."

The $102,000 must be paid within four months; $31,000 of it will go to cover legal fees, Black said.

Attorney Karen Black of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), who represents the Rev. Charles Heyward and his wife, Carolyn, said the Stouffers did not admit any wrongdoing.

"It is a situation that no person should have to be faced with," Mr. Heyward said "We felt violated and had no choice but to either accept what was happening, be angry and do nothing but fade off into the sunset with our anger--or to take what legal options we had."

PILCOP in conjunction with TAG (Tenant Action Group), has received funding to provide legal assistance in starting the Fair Housing Action Center. The Center is the first private organization in Philadelphia dedicated solely to education, outreach and testing on housing discrimination issues. Heyward v. Stouffer is PILCOP's most significant housing case this year, with the highest award in a housing discrimination case in Pennsylvania.