Chicago Area Fair Housing Groups Settle Four Ad Cases With 15 Developers, 4 Agencies, for $485,000

Since January of 1990, fair housing groups in the Chicago area have settled four advertising cases, involving 15 developers and four advertising agencies, for nearly $485,000. The groups include the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, HOPE Fair Housing Center, Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, South Suburban Housing Center, and Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.

These agreements, involving the use of human models, have usually required the real estate companies to continue to use human models for certain periods of times. They must depict minority models in conformity with the HUD advertising regulations. Two of the advertising agencies agreed to develop fair housing public relations campaigns for the plaintiff fair housing groups.

John Lukehart, assistant director of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, a participant in the coalition, said agreements were reached out of court in all those cases, with settlements "in six figures" and commitments to run integrated ads.

Limited Progress Made

A review of the real estate sections of the major Chicago dailies now finds several ads depicting African-American and other minority models. But there are probably more ads displaying only "bricks and mortar", not using human models at all.

In April 1992 a coalition of fair housing groups filed its second suit in less than a year against Chicago area developers and property managers for using only white models in their advertising.

"Exclusive use of white models sends a message to minorities that they are not welcome, reinforcing the segregated housing patterns in the Chicago area," said Derrick Ford of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, in announcing the federal court suit.

The Chicago Tribune of April 10, 1992 said the suit targeted the Park Claridge condominiums in Highland Park, developed by Robin Construction Corp.; Lake Barrington Shores, developed by an affiliate of the Northbrook based James Cos.; Chicago Place Condominiums, a joint venture of Sudler Marling and Brookfield Development; Fox Trail of Batavia, a development of Beechen, Dill and Sperling of Orland Park; and the New York on Lincoln Park, a rental building managed by Urban Search Management.

The action cites provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act prohibiting sale or rental advertising that "indicates any preference" with regard to race and other categories and requiring that "models be clearly definable as reasonably representing majority and minority groups in the metropolitan area."

Lukehart said the new suit was extended to the advertising agencies responsible for the ads when their names emerged in the process of discovery, as the court action went forward.

Defendants Beechen, Dill and Sperling Builders Inc. filed a motion to dismiss, but in December, Judge George W. Lindberg ruled that the fair housing groups had stated a cause of action under Section 804(c) but not under Section 804(a).

Federal Magistrate Rules for Fair Housing Groups

Related to these cases, in March 1993 a Chicago federal magistrate recommended a finding that an advertising agency may be held liable for ads it created featuring white models only.

Another advertising agency that prepared some of the challenged ads, Green, Campbell and Waln, also asked for a dismissal. They said they didn't publish the ads and shouldn't be held liable under Section 805(c). Magistrate Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer rejected that claim. She said the agency's liability was based on its own conduct in creating the ads, and their alleged liability was not based on the actions of the management company for whom the ads were produced

"They Still Haven't Gotten the Message"

Lukehart maintained that groups in the coalition have been trying to educate the public, real estate leaders, and the advertising agencies on the issue for three years. He added that the coalition has also asked area newspapers, including the Tribune, to inform advertisers of the Fair Housing Act's requirements and to refuse to publish ads featuring white models exclusively. He also noted that previous suits have received considerable publicity. "It's a little mind-boggling that people still haven't gotten the message," said Lukehart.

(latest case) [Tyus v. Robin Construction Corp, No. 92 C 2413 (N.D. Ill 3-4-93)] Counsel: Sara Bensinger of Robinson, Curley & Clayton, Chicago (Tyus) Dianna Klotnia of Miller, Sandman, Hamilton & Kurtzon, Chicago (Robin Construction)