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July 16, 1996

Judge Rules Against MBI in Yet Another Housing Discrimination Lawsuit

by Edmund Tsang

The presiding U.S. magistrate judge in the lawsuit against Mitchell Brothers, Inc. (MBI) filed by Jaime Craft ruled on July 8 against the defendants' objections to plaintiff's request for documents.

Craft, a former apartment manager for MBI, alleged that she was fired from her job because of her refusal to practice housing discrimination against minorities. Her attorney filed court papers in April, 1996 asking for documents from the defendants that would substantiate her charge. Included in the information requested by plaintiff's attorney, which is the subject of the July 8th ruling by the U.S. magistrate judge, are: "#18. If any records and/or documents maintained by you were coded or marked to indicate the race of any prospective tenant or tenants.... #19. Describe all procedures used by MBI for compiling, recording and storing information on such matters as tenant's race, sex, marital status, national origin, and identify the past and current custodians of such records and current location of all such records. #20. Describe the procedures you used from January 1, 1990 to the present in filling vacancies, interviewing and screening prospective tenants, determining the eligibility for tenancy of prospective tenants, accepting or requiring security deposits, answering telephone or in-person inquiries concerning the availability of apartments, maintaining waiting lists for vacant apartments, completing visitor information cards, posting vacancy or no vacancy signs, or placing any advertisement of any form in any media."

Judge William E Cassady ruled on July 8 that "Defendants have failed to show 'good cause' for a protective order under Rule 26(c), as the Plaintiff seeks discovery regarding matters which are relevant to the subject matter of Plaintiff's claims and Defendants have failed to establish 'annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense' concerning the discovery sought by Plaintiffs."

Judge Cassady also ruled that defendants' objection to plaintiff's requesting document "items #18, 19, and 20...are relevant to the subject matter of Plaintiff's claims." Attorneys representing MBI filed court papers in late April saying the disclosure of information about MBI tenants or applicants for 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."

In June 1996, MBI settled a lawsuit filed by 17 individuals who claim that the information cards they were asked to fill out when they applied for rental properties managed by MBI IN 1990 and 1991 were coded to identify their race for discriminatory purposes. The plaintiffs for the class action lawsuit, which was joined by the U.S. Department of Justice, said they become aware in 1994 or 1995 of the existence of the coded cards with their names on them as a result of a third lawsuit filed by a former MBI employee, Diane Hall, against the company for sexual harassment and housing discrimination practices. As part of the settlement of the class action lawsuit, the coded information cards, which were produced by another former MBI employee, Miriam Steiner, will be returned to MBI and kept "confidential." (Harbinger XIV, #19)

-- July 16, 1996

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