A federal judge has ruled that the owners and manager of an Alexandria apartment complex discriminated against an interracial couple and has ordered payment of an expected $30,000 in damages, court costs and attorneys' fees.
U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris said in his decision last week that the Lloyd Apartments' owners and manager violated federal fair housing and civil rights laws by refusing to rent to William McGraw, who is white, and his wife LaTara, who is black.
The McGraws were "hurt and humiliated" by the discrimination, Cacheris said. The couple was awarded $8,440 in compensatory and punitive damages, while the remainder is the estimated amount of attorney and court fees, according to Rachel S. Susz, the couple's lawyer.
Jerome P. Friedlander II, the defendants' attorney, said the decision will be appealed. "We don't agree there was any discrimination at all," he said.
In another discrimination case, the Arlington County government yesterday reached a tentative settlement with the owners, resident manager and rental agent of the Shirley Park Apartments. In documents filed last week in federal court in Alexandria as part of a motion to join three civil lawsuits, the county said the defendants refused to rent units to two black women and a Hispanic couple because of their race.
Under terms of the settlement, the Shirley Park has agreed not to violate fair housing laws in the future. The agreement also would require the apartment owners and managers to establish tenant selection criteria, make monthly reports of the race and national origins of applicants for the apartments, give its employes and agents eight hours of training in fair housing law and put fair housing posters in its rental office.
The Shirley Park defendants reached the agreement, called a consent decree, which requires no admission of liability by the Shirley Park, according to Peter H. Maier, an assistant county attorney.
The cases are among only a handful of housing discrimination suits ever filed in this area, according to Avery Friedman, an attorney and expert in federal fair housing law. Arlington County Attorney Charles G. Flinn said the Shirley Park case is the first housing discrimination suit the county ever has sought to enter in federal court and that the county never has filed a housing bias case in state courts.
Linda Wilson, Jamesenna Lundy, and Silvia and Jorge Chavez filed separate suits against the Shirley Park defendants. The three cases have been consolidated for trial at the same time in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, probably early next year, according to Susz, who is also the attorney for Wilson, Lundy and the Chavezes. The suits are not affected by the county's tentative settlement, she said.
Arlington County Board Chairman John G. Milliken said the board voted unanimously to follow recommendations of the county staff and the Fair Housing Board, a citizens group, to intervene in the case because "it was an opportunity to send a message that the county government's nondiscrimination policy is important and the county intends to enforce it." He said he is "delighted" with the tentative settlement, saying "it gives us everything we had asked for."
In the McGraw case, the couple said that Samuel S. Cohen and the late William S. Banks, owners of the Lloyd Apartments, a 299-unit complex at 800 Tennessee Ave. in Alexandria, and Jane Oliver, the resident manager, told them they could not rent a unit because they had "no prior lease experience" and despite the fact that the McGraws "had a good credit history and could afford to rent the apartment" they sought, according to the lawsuit. Banks died in September 1984, and his estate was represented at the trial by attorney Richard C. Beyda.
Other owners of the Lloyd Apartments named as defendants were Yetta K. Cohen, Fay H. Burka, Edward Burka, Leonard W. Burka, Elliott L. Burka, Solomon Grossberg and Gibson Co., a Maryland limited partnership.
The court documents said the McGraws were told they would need a co-signer for a lease, but the Lloyd rejected one prospective co-signer because her income was not high enough. An offer by William McGraw's parents to co-sign also was turned down because they do not live in Virginia, the documents said.
After the McGraws were rejected as tenants last spring, Terri and Robert Edwards, a white couple, visited the apartment to test the Lloyd's rental practices, according to the court papers. The Edwards told workers at the Lloyd they were getting married in June and had not rented apartments before. They were not told they needed prior lease experience or a co-signer, and were assured they could have an apartment by the middle of May, the lawsuit said.
A review of the Lloyd Apartments' records showed that 12 white individuals and couples who did not meet requirements demanded of the McGraws were allowed to rent units in 1984 and 1985, according to the lawsuit.
The McGraws asked for $200,000 in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. In addition to awarding them a smaller amount, Cacheris permanently blocked the Lloyd from refusing to rent units on the basis of race.
The Lloyd complex "is a very nice place," where the owners do not discriminate and where a number of minority families live, Friedlander said. The McGraws had no record of leasing in the past, and only one of the prospective co-signers appeared in person to fill out an application, a requirement under federal law, he said.
Friedlander said white tenants whose co-signers did not come to the Lloyd Apartments in person to fill out papers rented their units before Oliver, the resident manager, knew that a personal appearance was required by law.
"When Jane was told to stop" accepting tenants whose co-signers did not come to the building, "she stopped," Friedlander said. The Lloyd's owners, who were not present when the McGraws applied for a unit, might have approved the couple's application, but the manager could not override rules that prohibited renting to tenants without prior leasing history and a co-signer, he said.
According to the lawsuit alleging discrimination at the Shirley Park apartment complex, Lundy and Wilson, who do not know one another, each called the rental office after seeing advertisements that apartments were available. Each was told units were available, they said.
When Lundy and Wilson visited the Shirley Park and "defendants discovered that each plaintiff was black, the premises were not made available on account of race," the lawsuits alleged. Both were told they did not meet income requirements, although both women have jobs, according to court papers.
The Shirley Park owners, manager and rental agent "did not place similar income-requirement restrictions upon nonblack persons who expressed interest in renting" there, the lawsuit alleged.
In September, the Chavezes inquired by telephone about Shirley Park apartments and were told that a two-bedroom unit would be available by the end of the month, according to their lawsuit. When they appeared at the apartment complex, they were not allowed to include both their incomes when filling out a prospective tenant card.
Then the Chavezes, who are both employed, were told they could not rent at the Shirley Park because they did not meet income requirements, according to the court documents. The Chavezes' suit charges that non-Hispanic applicants were offered different terms and conditions for renting apartments.
An official of Four Mile Property Co. Ltd., owners of the Shirley Park, and the company's attorney denied that any discrimination has occurred at the complex. The official, Mark W. Morgan, said, "Based on the information cards they the plaintiffs filled out, they didn't qualify" for apartments.
Morgan, an owner, and attorney Fred C. Alexander, who represents Shirley Park resident manager Jane Lawman and rental agent Bonnie Haas as well as the owners, said the 826-unit apartment complex at 1400 28th St. South is a "top quality" low- and moderate-income housing complex. About 20 of the apartments are rented to families who receive Section 8 rental assistance certificates from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and "more than half" of the entire project is occupied by minorities, including blacks, Hispanics and Asians, Morgan said.
The lawsuits ask for $200,000 in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages each for Wilson, Lundy and the two Chavezes, as well as court costs and attorneys' fees.