May 28, 1996
by Edmund Tsang
According to a May 15 ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge William H. Steele, jury selection is set for July 1 with the trail beginning sometime during the month of July on complaints filed by 17 individuals on behalf of a class alleging housing discrimination by Mitchell Brothers, Inc. (MBI).
Attorneys for the defendant said in court papers filed two months ago that they expect a settlement in 30 days, indicating that "the parties hereto, as well as the United States Department of Justice, have reached an agreement in principle on the terms of settlement of this litigation and the related claims made by the United States, that the remaining terms of a comprehensive settlement are likely to be resolved by further discussions ongoing at present."
These 17 persons alleged that when they applied for rental properties managed by MBI in 1991 to 1992, they were asked to fill out information cards which were marked to identify them as African-Americans for discriminatory purposes. The plaintiffs said they became aware of the discriminatory practice when these cards surfaced in early 1995 in another lawsuit filed by a former MBI employee, who charges sexual harassment and housing discrimination by MBI officials.
Several former MBI employees, including leasing agents, filed complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as affidavits in 1994, describing the use of coded cards to discriminate minorities. One former MBI leasing agent, Miriam L. Steiner, stated in her affidavit that she was instructed to put "a mark on the top left-hand corner of the index card if the applicant was black. This meant not to call them." She added that about two weeks before she was fired, she was told 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," Steiner stated in her affidavit.
In a third lawsuit by a former MBI apartment manager who alleged that she was fired for refusing to engage in housing discrmination, attorneys for the defendant filed court papers on April 24 to object to documents requested by the plaintiff's attorney. Among reasons cited by the defendant attorneys is that the disclosure of information about MBI tenants or applicants of rental property "would or might violate said individual's privacy rights and/or Mitchell Brothers, Inc. obligations to them to maintain confidentiality of such information."
-- May 28, 1996