The first housing discrimination complaint in Fairfax County based on whether a landlord can assume that pregnancy will cost a woman her paycheck was settled this week when the former owners of an apartment complex agreed to pay $680 to a couple who were denied an apartment more than two years ago.
The couple had charged that the apartment management refused to include the wife's income in determining income eligibility because she was still in her childbearing years. The couple, who are black, also had filed a race discrimination complaint.
In the settlement, Belle View Management Associates, former owners of the 1,000-unit Belle View Apartments, made no admission of violating county housing discrimination laws.
"We haven't admitted to doing anything wrong. It's just a cheap way of getting out of a potential lawsuit," said Bennett Brown, attorney for the former owners.
The couple, Karen and Henry Giles first filed a complaint with the Fairfax Human Rights Commission in 1978, alleging that they had been denied an apartment at Belle View because they were black. At the time the complaint was filed, the apartment complex was owned by Belle View Management Associates. It has since been sold to Belle View Associates.
In the complaint, the Gileses contended that a white friend had been allowed to use a cosigner to meet income requirements, but they were not.
That complaint was later amended to include the sex discrimination charge. The new charge was based on a statement allegedly made at a Human Rights Commission fact-finding conference in 1979 in which the manager indicated that it was the policy of the management not to count a woman's salary in determining income eligibility when the woman was still in her "childbearing years."
In an affidavit filed in July 1980, the manager stated that it had never been the policy of the new owners to "disregard the income of a female of childbearing age." In the affidavit, the manager said nothing about the former owners' policy. The manager was unavailable for comment.
"It's fairly typical to find employment discrimination against pregnant women or women in childbearing years, even though it is clearly illegal, said Patricia Horton, executive director of the commission. "But what is unusual about this case is that someone actually came out in 1979 and admitted it. In fact, when I asked (during a fact-finding investigation) what would be considered childbearing years, she (the apartment manager) said from '18-50'. That's almost a woman's entire working career."
Before the agreement was reached, Horton said she had notified attorneys for the former owners that the Human Rights Commission had found "reasonable grounds" to believe that Belle View Management Associates had discriminated against the Gileses when they tried to rent a two-bedroom apartment in 1978. The rent at that time, according to the commission's investigation, was $248 a month and the couple's combined take-home pay was more than $1,000 a month.
A letter notifying the former owners' attorneys of the commission's findings, stated: "During the [fact-finding] conference, [the apartment manager] stated that the policy of Belle View Apartments was to not consider a wife's income if she was of childbearing age. The investigation showed that if this policy was applied to the Giles[es], they would not have qualified financially for the apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Giles' incomes combined exceeded the income requirement; Mr. Giles income alone fell below the income requirement."
Ironically, Karen Giles, who now lives in Arizona, said this week that she and her husband plan to use the money from the settlement for a baby she is expecting soon.
"I guess it's kind of funny," she said "but we're pleased anyway. I thought it was so weird when she (the apartment manager) started talking about the pregnancy bit. It seemed so old-fashioned."