October 31, 1995
by Edmund Tsang
Attorneys for Mitchell Brothers, Inc. (MBI) filed on October 25, 1995 in federal court in Mobile the motion to dismiss charges of housing discrimination brought by 19 persons who allege they had been denied the opportunity to rent apartments under its management because of race. The complaint filed in August 1995 stated that between 1990 and 1991, when the plaintiffs applied for rental of property managed by the defendant, they were asked to fill out an information card, and that in late 1994 to early 1995, they learned these cards were marked with a code to identify minority applicants for discrimination purposes. Because none of the plaintiffs were offered rental by the defendant, the complaint cited violations of the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Acts, and the Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The complaint also petitions the court to allow the plaintiffs to file the charges as a class-action lawsuit.
According to the document filed by defendant's attorneys on October 25, the first motion to dismiss is "[T]o dismiss the complaint, or at least the First, Second, Third and Fifth Causes of Action alleged therein, on the ground that each of the same is barred by the expiration of applicable statutes of limitations." The second motion to dismiss, "at least the Second, Third and Fourth Causes of Action thereof," is "on the ground that each of the same fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."
Katheleen Coughlin of the Fair Housing Institute in Atlanta told The Harbinger last week in a telephone interview that "the plaintiffs have a case." To prove violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Acts by the defendant, the plaintiffs "have to prove they were looking for housing, that housing was available to others but were denied to the plaintiffs." Coughlin said the laws on housing discrimination "cover all housing, privately as well as publicly financed." Coughlin is working with an attorney representing a former employee of MBI, who has filed a separate lawsuit against the company, alleging sexual harassment and housing discrimination by MBI officials.
The plaintiffs believe they can prove the charges of housing discrimination based on the "guest cards" they filled out when they applied to rent from MBI, Coughlin explained. "The guest cards were marked for discrimination," she stated.
[According to affidavits and complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, four former MBI lease agents said they were instructed to mark information cards to distinguish white applicants from those who are minorities.
Miriam L. Steiner, a former MBI leasing agent, said in her affidavit: "About two weeks before I was fired, Debbie Brown (manager of Maison de Ville apartments) told me to pull the marked cards out of the file and to throw them away. I pulled the cards out and did put them in the garbage. I then decided to keep the cards. I have attached true and correct copies of these cards to this affidavit as Exhibit 1." -- see Harbinger, Vol. XIII, #19, August 1-14, 1995]
Ms. Coughlin was asked whether the court would accept the argument of using the right of one's freedom of association to base decisions on renting properties. Coughlin said, "The criteria must apply to everyone." It is unlawful to base housing preferences on race, sex and family status, nor it is lawful to discriminate against people with disability, she added.
-- October 31, 1995