HUD Archives: News Releases

HUD No. 008
Further Information: For Release
In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685 Monday
Or contact your local HUD office January 15, 2001


PHILADELPHIA – A suburban Chicago couple who refused to rent a house to a white couple after learning their adopted son is black is facing more than $78,000 in damages and penalties, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced today. Cuomo made his announcement during a speech in Philadelphia honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cuomo said that the decision by a HUD administrative law judge in Chicago stems from a complaint filed by Darlene and Ronald Wooton against Cecil and Patricia Timmons. The Timmons, who had agreed to rent a house they own in Palos Hills, IL, to the Wootons, reneged on the deal when they [the Timmons] met the Wootons’ then-six year old son at the lease signing.

"Dr. King knew that discrimination that comes with a smile is just as common and just as insidious as more blatant forms of discrimination," Cuomo said. "The greatest praise we can give
Dr. King today is to keep his dream of fairness alive. That’s why I feel proud to have presided over HUD during a period in which its housing discrimination enforcement efforts doubled."

Cuomo noted to attendees of the 19th Annual King Day Benefit Luncheon that Congress paid tribute to King by passing the Fair Housing Act just six days after his assassination in April 1968. King had for years urged Congress to enact a strong law that would make possible the severe punishment meted out by administrative law judge William C. Cregar in his November 16 judgment against the Timmons.

Cregar ordered the Timmons to pay $63,850 in damages to the Wootons, $10,000 in civil penalties to HUD and $4,521 in damages to the South Suburban Housing Center of Homewood, IL, a local fair housing organization that first investigated the case. He also ruled that for five years the Timmons must display a HUD Fair Housing logo alongside any "for rent" signs they might use, and ordered them to attend fair housing training at the SSHC.

The judge’s ruling became final on December 16, and the Timmons have 30 days from that date to appeal the decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

During the hearing before the judge, the Wootons said a growing family had prompted them to contact Cecil Timmons in April 1998 about renting his property at 10535 South 81st St., which was then occupied by a friend of the Wootons who was moving out. Timmons and his wife lived next door.

The Wootons said they agreed on the phone to rent the place, and went a few days later to sign a lease. The Wootons brought their son and daughter, now eight and three, to that meeting. When Mr. Timmons saw the Wooton’s son for the first time, Timmons stared at him with his mouth wide open.

Mrs. Wooton said she asked Timmons if it was a problem that her son was black, and that he said that it was not. Timmons then excused himself saying he had to get his wife. He returned shortly and told the Wootons that without his knowledge his wife had already rented the house to someone else.

The Wootons, who filed a compliant with HUD in May, told investigators that they believed that Timmons did not want them because of their son.

After investigating the case, HUD determined that the Timmons had lied when telling the Wootons that the house had already been rented. In January 2000, HUD charged Timmons with discrimination under the terms of the Fair Housing Act. Because neither party chose to have a federal district court trial, the case was heard in June by ALJ Cregar. HUD, like many other federal agencies, has administrative law judges who make independent decisions in administrative matters before the department, such as fair housing matters.

The Wootons said that the incident traumatized them and their son, who blamed himself for what happened. The boy began getting in trouble in school for the first time, told his parents he wished he were white, and even started a fire in their home because he thought that black people turned white when they were burned.

"What happened to my son was wrong. He is an innocent boy and he's really suffered," Darlene Wooton said. "I’m crushed by what has happened to him because I am trying to provide for him and show him a better life. No amount of money could replace the hurt he's experienced."

Cregar said he largely based the monetary award on emotional distress to the Wootons over their son’s reaction and from stress in searching for another place to live. He also awarded civil penalties as a future deterrent to the Timmons, who own and manage four rental properties.

Prior to filing their complaint with HUD, the Wootons had filed a complaint with the SSHC, which began investigating the Timmons’ rental practices. SSHC filed a companion complaint with HUD in September 1998 to cover resources spent in that investigation.

"This case," said SSHC Executive Director John Petruszak, "presented the most compelling evidence of emotional injury suffered by the members of a family who had been denied housing through acts of discrimination that the Housing Center has ever encountered. The damages awarded to the Wootons reflects the serious impact inflicted upon them as every day victims of discrimination."

In addition to the housing discrimination case announced today, Cuomo noted HUD’s actions in a number of other high profile cases. The agency:

  • charged a Brandon, Mississippi man who frightened away potential black neighbors with threats of guns and dogs with violating the Fair Housing Act;
  • reached a $325,000 settlement on behalf of tenants at a New Orleans apartment complex with two swimming pools - one for whites, one for blacks;
  • charged four men in Missouri with discrimination for burning a seven-foot cross on the lawn of a Portuguese woman who they mistakenly believed to be black; and,
  • reached a $1.1 million settlement on behalf of a Philadelphia area woman, a fair housing worker, whose bi-racial daughter’s life was threatened on the Internet by a local hate group leader.

The Act bars housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. It covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation. Fair housing investigations are conducted by HUD investigators, state and city agencies working with HUD, and by private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds.

People who believe they’ve been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.


Content Archived: March 26, 2010