United States Attorney
District of Minnesota
Contact: Thomas B. Heffelfinger, United States Attorney (612) 664-5600
Karen Bailey, Media Coordinator (612) 664-5610
Joan Humes, Civil Division Chief (612) 664-5691
Greg Brooker, Assistant United States Attorney (612) 664-5600
Jeff Homan, MN Department of Human Rights (651) 296-2173
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, December 30, 2002
Minneapolis - The United States Attorney's Office and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights have settled a lawsuit alleging that the developers of a Harris, MN, residential community discriminated against several individuals on the basis of disability.
A Consent Decree filed today orders Dennis and Susan Gustafson, the developers of Whispering Pines, a residential development in Harris, MN, to pay $250,000 to the aggrieved parties and to sell three lots in Whispering Pines in order to facilitate the construction this spring of a home in the subdivision that will be accessible to persons with disabilities. The Decree also enjoins the Gustafsons from discriminating in the sale or rental of housing in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act and prevents the Gustafsons from retaliating against the aggrieved parties. The settlement also provides for federal monitoring for three years to assure compliance with all federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
In 2001, the parents of Randal Perron, a disabled former Washington County Sheriff Deputy, planned to build two homes in Whispering Pines, one home for themselves and one home with accessibility features for their son and three other individuals with disabilities. Randal Perron's sister and husband also planned to build a home for their family in the same subdivision. In October 2001, the family met with the exclusive builder and realtor for Whispering Pines and entered into hold agreements for three lots.
The government's lawsuit alleged that when the developer of Whispering Pines, Dennis and Susan Gustafson, found out that the home designed for Randal Perron and other persons with disabilities was planned across the street from their own home in the subdivision, the Gustafsons fired the exclusive builder and refused to allow the sale of the three lots to the family to proceed. The Complaint further alleged that the Gustafsons then wrote restrictive covenants in an attempt to prevent group homes for persons with disabilities from ever being built in Whispering Pines.
The Complaint filed by the United States in August 2002 alleged that the actions of the Gustafsons violated the Fair Housing Act. On September 25, 2002, the State of Minnesota intervened in the federal action against the Gustafsons, alleging that the Gustafsons also violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The parties recently settled the case at a mediation and entered into a Consent Decree.
"This settlement allows the accessible home for Randal Perron to be built as soon as is possible. The Consent Decree is a good result for the family and protects the public from any future discriminatory acts," noted Thomas Heffelfinger, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota. "It should send a strong message to Minnesota landlords and developers that discrimination of any type in the sale or rental of housing will not be tolerated."
If the Court approves the Consent Decree, the complaints against the Gustafsons will be dismissed and the federal monitoring period will begin. Assistant United States Attorney Greg Brooker represented the United States. Erica Jacobson represented the State of Minnesota.