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February 20, 1996

Update: Lawsuit Against Mitchell Brothers, Inc. Moving Slowly Forward In Court

by Edmund Tsang

On February 12, the presiding judge in the housing discrimination lawsuit filed August, 1995 against Mitchell Brothers, Inc. (MBI) denied defendant's January 26, 1996 petition to stay "all proceedings in this action which was entered by Order dated December 13, 1995, be extended without interruption until March 31, 1996." In December, 1995 the judge ruled for defendant's motion to "stay all proceedings...pending possible intervention by the United States" until January 31, 1996. Attorneys representing MBI requested the stay be extended until the end of March on the grounds that "Much of the period of the original stay was not available for activity concerning the Department of Justice's position because a combination of the Government 'shutdown' and the weather emergencies to Washington consumed most of the period since the stay began." The petition on January 26 ended with the statement "Defendant believes that plaintiffs' counsel do not oppose the requested extension."

The 17 plaintiffs in the complaints filed in August, 1995 allege that in 1991 to 1992, when they applied to lease apartments managed by MBI, they were asked to fill out an information card on which a special code was placed to identify them as African-Americans for purposes of discrimination in renting the apartments. The plaintiffs contend that they became aware of the existence of the coded information on those cards in early 1995. In a separate lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and discriminatory housing practices of MBI officials, a former MBI rental agent produced the cards that plaintiffs in this lawsuit filled out when they made inquiries in 1991 and 1992 about leasing apartments managed by MBI.

On February 12, 1996, the presiding U.S. district judge wrote: "On February 9, 1996, the Court held a hearing on defendant's 'motion for continuation of stay.' After counsel for plaintiffs and defendant presented arguments on the motion, the Court denied the motion, ending the stay of all proceedings."

Court papers filed by plaintiffs' attorneys in the latest hearing do not support defendant's claim that "plaintiffs' counsel do not oppose the requested extension." According to documents stating plaintiffs' response, "the defendant never made a serious settlement offer" when plaintiffs attempted to "resolve this matter without litigation," delaying the plaintiffs in filing this case for several months.

The plaintiff's argument states: "Subsequently, in December of 1995, the Justice Department notified defendant that it intended to file a lawsuit alleging a pattern and practice of race discrimination in connection with the rental of apartments owned by the defendant...The Department of Justice will not be seeking leave to intervene in this lawsuit, and the Justice Department's lawsuit will not preempt this lawsuit. Instead, there will be two parallel lawsuits against defendant Michell Brothers, Inc. Accordingly, Plaintiffs believe that they are entitled to move forward with their lawsuit, with no further delay."

-- February 20, 1996


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