Va. Man Triumphs Against Realtors

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 24, 2005

In the first case of its kind, the Alexandria Human Rights Commission unanimously agreed Monday night that Long & Foster Real Estate Co. discriminated against a single gay man who wanted to buy a home in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood.

Instead, the house went to a young married couple, who continue to own it.

The commission cited the McLean-based real estate company for discriminating against Lawrence Cummings, 52, because of his marital status or his sexual orientation. The basis for its decision won't be made public for 30 days.

Long & Foster could be required to pay up to $5,000 in fines to the city of Alexandria.

Cummings has already paid thousands of dollars in attorney's fees since he learned that his offer on the house in the Beverly Forest area had been rejected in February 2004.

"It is for the cause. For the principle," he said. "I don't believe you can discriminate against someone for their martial status or sexual preference and be able to get away with it."

Cummings's case file reads at times like a soap opera, examining in detail the emotional state of the seller, who for 40 years had lived in the house, built by her father. It includes the record of an exhaustive public hearing in July, which lasted until 1 a.m., and the view of one person that the sale had really come down to which buyer liked the curtains made from an old wedding dress better.

Even the unanimous commission decision, rendered Monday about 9:30 after a closed session, added to the sense of drama.

Commissioners on Monday announced that Long & Foster had violated the city's human rights code. But they declined to say how, or whether it was because Cummings was single or gay.

"It's one or the other or both," said Commission Chairman Matt Harris. "It's not neither."

In February 2004, Cummings and his partner had already made offers on six houses and were getting tired of looking. When he saw the ranch-style house on Pullman Lane on a Saturday, he thought he had found what he was looking for. "I thought, 'Oooooh, cute,' " he explained. He met the sellers briefly and made an offer for the asking price -- $555,000 -- that same day.

"I thought surely I was going to get this house," he said.

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