Tenants win $265,000 discrimination settlement

Consent Decree to Remedy Alleged Harassment, Discrimination

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
1401 New York Avenue, NW - Suite 400
Washington,  DC 20005

March 31, 2004

Jonathan P. Hooks

GREENVILLE, NC –Today, African-American tenants and the North Carolina Fair Housing Center announced the $265,000 settlement of their housing discrimination claims against the property manager and owner of a private apartment complex in Greenville, NC.  The settlement provides the plaintiffs with $265,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees, and establishes a federal and state court consent decree mandating that the owners change rental practices at all their properties, empowering tenants at dozens of North Carolina apartments.

In their complaint, filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, six African-Americans families claimed that the property manager at Glendale Court Apartments harassed, intimidated and terrorized them with racist epithets, threatened their children, broke into their homes, went to their workplaces to harass them – and even had two residents falsely arrested. 

Tenants complained repeatedly about such harassment to the owner of Glendale Court, Thetford Property Management, but Thetford essentially did nothing, the complaint alleged.  Even though a Thetford witness acknowledged personally receiving frequent complaints, no records were kept, and – far from being disciplined – the manager continued to receive positive performance reports and merit pay raises.

“The horrible slurs and harassment we endured was terrible – especially the way our children were treated.” said Kim Holloway, one of the plaintiffs.  “Our kids were told to stay off the grass, whether they wanted to play or were just waiting for the bus, because they would ‘mess it up.’  But the manager let a white tenant ride his motorcycle wherever he pleased.  It just wasn’t right.  Something had to change.”

“We were treated like we didn’t count.  No other landlord should be allowed to ignore these types of problems again,” said Sharon B. Dixon, another plaintiff.  “And I hope other tenants know they can stand up for themselves and get justice.”

“This settlement makes clear that bullying, racist behavior by landlords will not be tolerated in North Carolina.  No one should have to live in a climate of tyranny and oppression,” said Stella Adams, Executive Director of the North Carolina Fair Housing Center.

Attorneys for the families stated that in addition to the payment of damages and attorneys’ fees, the owner agreed to a consent decree requiring it to better screen and monitor property managers by including tenants when interviewing applicants and surveying tenants on property manager performance; to improve its tenant complaint procedures, with a toll-free complaint line, mandatory follow-up, and written records; and to provide fair housing training.  Also, the property manger is required to not contact the plaintiffs.

“For those who have experienced this kind of harassment and racial abuse, no amount of money can ever make you whole, but this settlement gives these families some real measure of justice,” said Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the national civil rights organization representing the former residents.  “Just as important, the consent decree creates policies that will empower the tenants in all apartments across North Carolina – and provide an example for others to follow.”

The plaintiffs are represented by M. Travis Payne of Edelstein, Payne & Haddix, Raleigh, NC; Cheryl Ziegler, Audrey Wiggins and Jonathan Hooks of the Lawyers’ Committee in Washington, D.C.; and Sharon Cummings Giles and Thomas Kayser of the Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, MN, offices of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, L.L.P.