|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|
JUDGE ORDERS SUBURBAN CHICAGO LANDLORDS TO PAY $78,000 IN HOUSING DISCRIMINATION CASE
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. Thats 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 judges 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 Wootons 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. "Im 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 sons 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 HUDs 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 daughters 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 theyve been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.