Buffalo condo owner denies housing to Black college professor, must pay $17,000

In February, the Buffalo, New York Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) announced the settlement of a racial discrimination case which took more than five years to resolve. A New York administrative law judge awarded nearly $17,000 to Dr. C. LaVonn e Moton, an African-American college professor, and HOME.

According to testimony, Moton called Paul DiGuilio, owner and manager of Chapin Parkway Condominiums and inquired about a unit that had been advertised in the Buffalo News. Moton met with DiGuilio on August 2, 1989, viewed the unit, explai ned her qualifications to DiGuilio, and expressed her interest in renting the unit. DiGuilio would not accept a check from Moton, claiming that he still had to show the unit to other prospective tenants. Moton telephoned DiGuilio again on August 3, advi sing him that she would still be interested in renting the unit. It was at this point that DiGuilio told Moton that the unit was no longer available.

Despite telling Moton that the unit was no longer available, on August 4, DiGuilio told a White colleague of Moton's that the unit was still available for rent. On the same day, DiGuilio told an African-American tester from HOME that the unit had already been rented.

HOME filed complaints on behalf of Moton with the New York State Division of Human Rights in December 1989. After investigating the matter, the Division issued a finding of "probable cause" and then recommended the case for public hearing. Altho ugh under New York's Human Rights Law, the state is required to furnish an attorney to prosecute such cases, five years passed with no legal action taken against DiGuilio.

In the summer of 1994, after several unsuccessful inquiries, Scott Gehl, HOME's Executive Director, wrote to then Commissioner Margarita Rosa about the 15 HOME cases then awaiting trial by the state. Rosa responded that because of staffing shortages, the cases could only be brought to trial if HOME could provide legal counsel. Recruiting an attorney became extremely difficult for HOME because New York State's Human Rights Act does not allow the recovery of legal fees by complainants. Attorney J ohn J. Phelan, a member of HOME's board of directors, agreed to represent Moton in the case, free of charge. Without Phelan stepping in, Moton would have waited several more years.

After the case was heard, James F. Wilcox, acting Chief Administrative Law Judge of the New York State Division of Human Rights, ordered DiGuilio and his wife, Vivian DiGuilio, to pay $15,000 in damages to Moton, for denying housing due to her race. Wilcox also ordered the respondents to pay $1,763 to HOME for expenses incurred in its investigation of the case.

Judge Wilcox admonished Mr. DiGuilio, a licensed attorney and real estate broker with 30 years experience. Describing the discriminatory actions taken by Mr. DiGuilio, Judge Wilcox said, "Through hard work and ability, Dr. Moton had achieved acad emic success and financial independence. Despite her professional success, Dr. Moton was denied housing for no reason other than her race. She was humiliated, disgraced, and embarrassed before all her colleagues. The specter of equality, which she had believed in and worked so hard for, had disappeared into a cesspool of racism."