The Justice Department announced today that Massillon, Ohio landlords John and Mary Ruth have agreed to pay $850,000 to settle lawsuits filed by the Justice Department and other parties alleging that the Ruths discriminated on the basis of race and familial status at properties they formerly owned in Massillon. The settlement must still be approved by United States District Judge John R. Adams in the Northern District of Ohio.
The proposed settlement would resolve a lawsuit filed by the department on October 31, 2011, alleging that the Ruths and the companies through which they manage their properties had discriminated against African Americans and families with children at Yorkshire Apartments, Thackeray Ledges and Wales Ridge— three apartment complexes located in Massillon, Ohio. The settlement would also resolve related lawsuits raising similar allegations filed by Stark County, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and several former property managers and tenants at the complexes. In an order issued on March 31, 2014, the court noted that 10 of Mr. Ruth’s former employees had testified that they were instructed to discriminate against African Americans and that other former employees had testified that they been instructed to discriminate against families with children. The court ruled that the department had presented sufficient evidence of a pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination by the defendants for the case to go to trial before a jury.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will pay:
· $650,000 in damages and attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, Stark County and several former residents and property managers;
· $175,000 in damages to 11 additional former residents and employees identified by the United States who had been harmed by the defendants’ discrimination; and
· $25,000 in a civil penalty to the United States.
“It is a sad fact that decades after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, many people still face unlawful discrimination when looking for housing,” said Molly Moran, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The magnitude of this settlement makes clear that the Department of Justice will vigorously pursue violations of the Fair Housing Act.”
“The freedom of every family to live where they wish, without regard to their race or if they have kids, is basic to who we are in this country,” said U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach for the Northern District of Ohio. “When landlords deny that basic right, there will be consequences. We will continue to work hard to ensure that this fundamental right is protected in Ohio and across the nation.”
The settlement also requires that the defendants hire an independent management company to manage all of their rental properties, receive training on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act and report to the department for a period of three years on their compliance with the settlement. The settlement also requires the defendants to hire a third party to periodically test their properties to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act.
Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Department of Justice. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt . Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at email@example.com , or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or through its website at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp .