WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that Milwaukee-area real estate firm RE/MAX Realty 100, real estate agent Phyllis Hasenstab and homeowner Edith Halvorsen agreed to pay $35,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act when they refused to negotiate for the sale of a single-family home with an African-American principal in the Milwaukee schools because of her race.
According to the Department’s lawsuit, filed in October 2006, in the summer of 2005, First Weber Real Estate agent Margaret Silkey was helping Tammi Doss, a principal in the Milwaukee schools, look for a house in Milwaukee. The Department alleged that when Silkey told homeowner Edith Halvorsen that she might have a prospective buyer for her house, Halvorsen asked if her client was black and said she did not want to sell her home to a black person. Halvorsen later retained defendant Phyllis Hasenstab, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Realty 100, to list her house for sale and also told Hasenstab that she did not want to sell her home to a black person. After the house was listed, Silkey contacted RE/MAX to try to schedule an appointment to show the house to Doss. Hasenstab and Halvorsen amended the listing agreement to exclude Silkey from showing the property and Silkey was not able to show the house to Doss. The defendants later sold the home to a white person.
“The complaint alleges that a seller and her real estate agent colluded to discriminate against a school principal because she was African American,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We will continue our vigorous efforts to secure relief on behalf of aggrieved victims like Ms. Doss in our fight against illegal housing discrimination.”
“We will aggressively pursue civil rights matters,” said Steven M. Biskupic, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. “This case is another example of that commitment.”
Under the settlement, which must still be approved by the court, defendants will pay $30,000 to Tammi Doss and $5,000 to Margaret Silkey. The settlement also requires RE/MAX to train its agents on fair housing and to report discrimination complaints to the Department for the three-year term of the decree.
This matter began when Silkey and Doss filed discrimination complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After investigating the complaints, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and referred the case to the Department of Justice.
Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Department of Justice. In February 2006, the Department of Justice announced Operation Home Sweet Home, a concentrated initiative to expose and eliminate housing discrimination in America.
Persons who believe that they have experienced unlawful housing discrimination may call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line (1-800-896-7743), email the Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. Since Jan. 1, 2001, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has filed 244 cases to enforce the Fair Housing Act, 68 of which have alleged discrimination based on race. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt.