Buffalo: Race bias case settled on eve of trial

In a consent decree signed by federal Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Maxwell, Clarence and Louise Chappel of Buffalo have agreed to pay $7,500 to settle a racial discrimination case brought in U.S. District Court by an African-American couple and HOME. This settlement was retched the afternoon of September 28th, only hours before jury selection was scheduled to begin.

In addition to the cash payment, the defendants agreed to conduct affirmative action marketing, to undergo fair housing training, and to undertake a program of affirmative record keeping.

What basis for refusal

According to court papers prepared by plaintiffs' counsel Dan D. Kohan (of Hurwitz & Fine), on or about September 4th, 1990 Charlotte and Robert V. kept an appointment to view a three bedroom apartment on York Street in Buffalo. Having informed the realtor who had arranged the appointment of their "three lovely children." Charlotte and Robert were shocked by their reception.

According to Charlotte's deposition, the defendants accused her of provid ing false information to the rental agent, began shouting at her, and, with their son, surrounded and intimidated her. Robert, who had been waiting in the car, joined his wife in time to hear Mrs. Chappel say the defendants weren't turning them away because of their race - but because they had more than one child.

Laws prohibiting familial status discrimination exempt owner-occupied two-family structures (like the house on York Street). However, racial discrimination is illegal in all housing.

According to sworn affidavits, HOME's investigation revealed that - unlike the V's - a white applicant with three children was later treated cordially and offered an application. Most telling of all was the fact that the defendants reportedly had rented the unit to a white family with three children.

This case was brought in federal court under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a Reconstruction Era statute which, in some respects, is broader in its prohibition of discrimination than statutes passed by legislatures in this century.