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January 9, 1996

Update: Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Against MBI

by Edmund Tsang

The United States District Judge hearing the housing discrimination lawsuit against Mitchell Brothers, Inc. (MBI) ruled on December 12, 1995 to grant the defendant's motion to "stay all proceedings and for protective order...pending possible intervention by the United States" until January 31, 1996. The lawsuit, filed in August, 1995 by 17 persons on behalf of a class, alleged that in 1991 and 1992 when they applied to lease property managed by MBI, they were singled out for discrimination because of their race. The plaintiffs contend that in early 1995, they became aware of the fact that the information cards they filled out when they applied to rent an apartment under MBI management, were coded to identify they are African-Americans for discriminatory purposes.

In August, 1995, the Mobile daily reported that an investigator from the U.S. Department of Justice visited Mobile to collect information concerning allegations of housing discrimination practices that several former MBI employees leveled against company officials in 1994. According to complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and affidavits, four former MBI leasing agents said they were told to mark the information cards of black applicants to distinguish them from white applicants, and also not to call the minority applicants back about the availability of apartments for rental.

Physical evidence came to light in November, 1994, when Miram L Steiner stated in her affidavit: "About two weeks before I was fired, [the manager of the apartment complex] 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."

The December 12, 1995 order by the U.S. District judge stated: "After due and proper consideration, the Court finds that defendant's motion is due to be, and hereby is, GRANTED to the extent that all proceedings in this case are STAYED as of the date of this order until January 31, 1996, and all applicable time periods and deadlines are hereby TOLLED until that date. The Court will reconsider this order as it relates to the production of previously requested documents should the plaintiffs file a proposed modified order on or before Thursday, December 21, 1995."

-- January 9, 1996

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