The Justice Department today announced the settlement of a case alleging housing discrimination in the rental of apartments in Kansas City, Kan. The combined $2.13 million settlement represents the second largest monetary payment ever obtained by the department in a fair housing case alleging housing discrimination in the rental of apartments.
The department brought a lawsuit in federal district court in Kansas alleging that Stacy Sturdevant, the community manager of the Central Park Towers Apartments (CPT), her employer, NHP Management Co., as well as the Apartment Investment and Management Company (AIMCO) and the former owners of CPT, engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit also alleged that the defendants retaliated against an employee, Melissa Kothe, for cooperating with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigators.
In its amended complaint, filed on Sept. 18, 2008, the department alleged that for two-and-a-half years between 2003-2005, Sturdevant engaged in discriminatory rental practices on the basis of race. The United States presented evidence in litigation that Sturdevant openly displayed racially hostile materials at CPT, such as hangman’s nooses, frequently referred to African Americans with racial epithets and generally treated white residents more favorably than African American residents. The government also alleged that the defendants improperly retaliated against Kothe, a resident services coordinator at CPT, by firing her when she cooperated with HUD investigators and advised a resident to contact HUD.
"The right to live peacefully in one’s own home without being victimized, harassed and treated unfairly because of race is a fundamental right in our nation," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "This settlement is designed to send a message to housing providers across the country that we have a zero-tolerance policy for this type of egregious behavior."
"Individuals who step forward to assist victims of housing discrimination should know that HUD and the Justice Department will protect them from retaliation," said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "This settlement vindicates that interest."
Sturdevant was an employee of NHP Management Company, a subsidiary of AIMCO, one of the nation’s largest owners and operators of multifamily dwellings. Central Park Towers II L.P. owned the building where Sturdevant was employed — a Section 8 property with 195 units designated for persons with disabilities and/or elderly. This settlement will resolve the United States’ claims on behalf of over 40 current and former tenants of Central Park Towers, as well as the claim on behalf of Melissa Kothe.
The department settled its claim against the former owners, Central Park Towers II L.P. last summer, for $145,000. That settlement, together with the agreement announced today, amount to a total settlement of $2.13 million. The settlements are in the form of consent orders that the parties have submitted to the court for approval. Last summer’s settlement with the former owners has already been approved by the court. Today’s agreement must still be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Vratil.
The agreement filed today would require the defendants to pay $95,500 in civil penalties to the United States, and a total of approximately $1.89 million into a fund that would be used to compensate persons who were harmed by the defendants’ discriminatory practices. The terms of the distribution of the monetary damages will be determined in a separate disbursement order to be submitted by the United States for approval by the court.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination should call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line (1-800-896-7743) or email the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org. Such persons may also contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 to report discrimination.
Fair housing enforcement is a priority of the Civil Rights Division. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.justice.gov/crt.