FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CR
TUESDAY, APRIL 21, 1998 (202) 616-2765
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OBTAINS $180,000 SETTLEMENT IN HOUSING DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT IN MICHIGAN
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An owner and former resident manager of a Grand Rapids, Michigan, apartment complex will pay $180,000 in damages for allegedly refusing to rent to African Americans and families with children, under an agreement reached today with the Justice Department.
Today's agreement, which resolves the first housing discrimination suit ever brought by the Justice Department in Grand Rapids, also requires the former manager to move out of the complex and never work there in any capacity again.
Presented today for approval to the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, the agreement settles a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department in February 1997, against Mark Jansma, the owner, and Robert Etheridge, the former resident manager, of Town and Country Apartments in Grand Rapids. Four families later joined the suit.
In the suit, the Justice Department alleged the owner and manager of the 50-unit complex violated the federal Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent apartments to African Americans and families with children.
Under the agreement, the defendants will:
pay $135,000 in damages to the four families who were victims of discrimination, $5,000 to the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids, and $5,000 in civil penalties to the U.S. treasury;
set up a fund of $35,000 to compensate additional victims of discrimination who are later identified;
institute a fair housing training program at Town and Country;
establish uniform rental procedures to prevent further discrimination at Town and Country; and,
no longer allow the manager to work at the complex in any capacity.
"To deny a person an apartment based on the color of his or her skin or because he or she has a family is to deny that person a rightful share of the American dream," said Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann Lee.
The discrimination was discovered after trained pairs of black and white "testers" posing as prospective tenants inquired about rental units at the complex. The investigation revealed that the manager told black testers that no apartments were available, but told white testers that apartments were available and offered to show apartments to those testers.
The testing also revealed that the manager told prospective tenants that families with young children were not permitted at Town and Country.
The testing was conducted by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and by the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids, a non-profit organization that works to ensure equal housing opportunity in the Grand Rapids area.
"This lawsuit should send a firm message to housing providers in Western Michigan that we will not tolerate discrimination and that we will prosecute and punish those persons who refuse to provide fair and equal treatment," said Michael Hayes Dettmer, the U.S. Attorney in Grand Rapids, whose office worked with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in prosecuting the case.
Today's settlement resolves the ninth case brought in Michigan since the Justice Department began its nationwide fair housing testing program. The nine Michigan cases alleging Fair Housing Act violations have resulted in settlements totaling more than $2 million, to date. Nationwide, the Justice Department has filed 46 cases in 12 states under its fair housing testing program. Of the 38 cases resolved by consent orders or favorable judgments, the Department has recovered more than $7.2 million, including more than $1.1 million in civil penalties and approximately $6.1 million in other damages. Seven cases are still pending.
Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination at Town and Country Apartments should call the Justice Department Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743 (press option 9).
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