Landlords Settle Bias Lawsuit

Sunday, June 22, 2008
Kristina Peterson
Mercury News

The owners of an East Palo Alto apartment complex paid $25,000 to settle a lawsuit that contended the only prospective tenants they contacted were white women, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing said last week.

In its lawsuit, the department said Joseph Balaty and Fred Kiani, owners of an 11-unit apartment complex on Euclid Avenue in East Palo Alto, discriminated against black men by ignoring their tenant applications and phone calls while responding only to those from white women.

Without admitting liability, Balaty and Kiani settled the suit out of court and agreed to pay $25,000, the department announced Friday in a prepared statement.

Kiani did not return a phone call for comment from the Bay Area News Group, and Balaty could not be reached Friday.

The lawsuit was sparked by an incident that occurred in November 2004, when Kiani, the complex's manager, ignored a tenant application and numerous phone calls from Junius White, a single, 64-year-old black man.

White had held a secure job as an office assistant for the previous 11 years and had good credit, said Mary Prem, director of fair housing at Project Sentinel, the housing equity non-profit that subsequently investigated his complaint.

The first of the 11 people Project Sentinel sent to the apartment complex posing as potential tenants was a black man who called the manager 11 times from Feb. 2 to Feb. 19, 2005. He left seven messages, none of

Calls left by male testers and black female testers also were not returned, Prem said.

But when a white woman called and was leaving a message, the manager answered the phone, Prem said. All five white female testers "received active encouragement from one of the owners," the department said in its statement.

"It shows a very clear pattern, that this manager engaged in a practice that was not just race discrimination, but also gender discrimination," Prem said.

Phyllis Cheng, director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said in a statement Friday that the case revealed "compelling evidence of discrimination against male tenants in general and African-American males in particular."

State and Consumer Services Secretary Rosario Marin said the settlement reinforced the relevancy of the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

"Equal access to housing is a fundamental right," she said.

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