Miami: Race Discrimination on An Answering Machine

Other than the now famous LA. police beating of Rodney King, it is rare for race discrimination to be captured on tape. And it seldom happens in fair housing cases. But when Alvaner Silva and Giseli Henrique returned to their Miami Beach apartment with a Brazilian house guest on April 6, 1993, they were greeted by a strange message on their telephone answering machine.

Their landlady, Mrs. Encarnacion Dominguez, had called and stated on tape that she had learned there was a black house guest staying with her tenants, she did not want "Negroes" living in her building, and that the police would be called if the black house guest continued to reside in their unit.

Armed with the answering machine tape, the couple filed an emergency complaint with Marcello Mingo at the Metro-Dade Equal Opportunity Board, who in turn referred them to Randall C. Berg, Jr. and Peter M. Siegel, attorneys at the Florida Justice Institute, for prompt judicial relief. A lawsuit was immediately filed by the Institute in U.S. District Court. Silva and Henrique v. Eloy and Encarnacion Dominguez, Case No. 930703-Civ-Ungarro-Benages.

A temporary restraining order was entered by agreement of counsel by U.S. District Judge Stanley Marcus. Soon thereafter, a preliminary injunction hearing was held where the defendant testified. At the conclusion of the hearing a preliminary injunction was entered by U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungarro-Benages.

The order prohibited the defendants and other persons acting in concert with them from evicting the plaintiffs from their apartment and from disturbing the couple's quiet enjoyment of the premises. The Judge encouraged the defendants to settle the case. Their taped discrimination message eventually cost the landlords $16,000 plus their attorneys' fees to settle on December 27, 1993.