RICHMOND -- A federal appeals court has upheld an award to a Baltimore woman in a housing discrimination case even though she never applied for a lease at a community about which she had inquired.

"It seems quite clear that the district court correctly found a racially discriminatory policy at Armistead {Gardens}," a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said this week. "The discrimination worked primarily to deter black interest in the community from ever forming."

The case arose in 1988 after Karen Pinchback responded to a newspaper advertisement for a home at Armistead Gardens. The real estate agent told Pinchback, who is black, that the community where the home was located did not permit blacks to live there.

Pinchback took the agent at her word and did not apply to the community's membership committee, which screens prospective buyers.

Pinchback later reported the matter to a Department of Housing and Urban Development investigator and filed a lawsuit against Armistead Homes Corp., which exercised control over Armistead Gardens, and against the real estate agent and the agent's company.

The claims all were settled before trial except the claim against Armistead. U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr. of Baltimore ruled that Armistead had discriminated against Pinchback. He awarded her $2,500, attorneys' fees and costs.

On appeal, Armistead challenged Black's conclusion that Pinchback would have engaged in a "futile gesture" to actually apply for a lease at the community. The "futile gesture" doctrine is a part of federal fair employment law but has not been used in housing discrimination cases.

But the appeals panel said Black was careful to spell out all of the steps in Pinchback's claim and upheld the award to Pinchback on her federal claim.