WASHINGTON —RE/MAX East-West, a real estate firm in Elmhurst, Ill., and one of its former real estate agents, John DeJohn, have agreed to pay $120,000 to settle allegations that they illegally steered prospective homebuyers toward and away from certain neighborhoods based on race and national origin, the Justice Department announced today. The consent decree was signed on Feb. 17, 2009, by U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo.
The lawsuit originated from a complaint filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Testing conducted by NFHA of RE/MAX East-West in 2004 and 2005 revealed that DeJohn had steered an Hispanic tester toward homes in predominantly African-American or Hispanic neighborhoods, but had encouraged a similarly situated white tester to look at listings in predominantly white neighborhoods. Both testers had contacted DeJohn about the same advertised listing. According to the complaint, DeJohn also told the white tester that, "I don’t care if you are a bigot. If we go to an area and you don’t like it, just let me know. I can’t be a bigot but you can be one," or words to that effect. After an investigation, HUD found reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discrimination had occurred and referred the matter to the Justice Department, which filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois on July 18, 2008.
"Unlawful steering by real estate agents frustrates the rights of people to make fully informed housing choices and perpetuates segregated housing patterns," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King of the Civil Rights Division. "We appreciate the efforts of NFHA and of investigators at HUD who have helped shine a light on this problem. We will continue to vigorously pursue such discrimination."
"Real estate firms and their agents who steer buyers to different neighborhoods based on race or nationality have violated the Fair Housing Act, and we will enforce the law to ensure that people may purchase homes where they choose and are free from unlawful discrimination," said Patrick Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
"The elimination of racial steering was a principal goal of the Fair Housing Act, when it was signed into law in 1968," said Bryan Greene, HUD's General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "Today, steering still rears its head. Where it does, HUD will wield the law against it, and in partnership with the Department of Justice, obtain meaningful relief for its victims."
The lawsuit named as defendants S&W Elmhurst LLC, an Elmhurst company that does business under the name RE/MAX East West, and DeJohn. The settlement requires the defendants to pay $120,000 to the NFHA. The settlement also requires RE/MAX East-West to hire a qualified organization to provide fair housing training to its agents and to maintain records and submit periodic reports to the Justice Department. DeJohn is no longer working as a realtor and his Illinois real estate license expires in April 2009. However, the settlement requires DeJohn to comply with similar training and reporting requirements if he decides to become a real estate agent again in Illinois or any other state.
Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department. The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt. Persons who believe they have experienced or witnessed unlawful housing discrimination may call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777. More information about the Fair Housing Act can also be found at www.usdoj.gov/fairhousing or www.HUD.gov.