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1999 Newsletter

*This is a plain text version of our newsletter. For more images, please download the PDF.

Case Updates

Cases Filed

Coates et. al. v Myer

Sexual Harassment/Race Discrimination Suit Filed

They all answered the same ad: “FEMALE NEEDED. Elegant home, near WCC. Jacuzzi, laundry, $280+. 572-0724.” and now, Rachel Coates, Amanda Coffin, Erin Cuniffe, Cynthia Moening, Dawn Ottinger and Sarah Ruggles have filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against their former landlords, Raymond Scott Myers and his parents, Ernest and Becky Myers. The six-bedroom house is located on North Hewitt Road in Ypsilanti.

Although the women, some of whom had never met, lived at the house at dif­ferent times in 1998 and 1999, all reported a similar pattern of behavior from Scott Myers. An initial group of women contacted the FHC in the Fall of 1998 and decided to pursue litigation. Other women were added to the case as they contacted the FHC for assistance. According to the lawsuit filed at the end of May, 1999, Scott Myers engaged in a range of behavior including: making unwelcome sexual advances to tenants; touching tenants in an unwelcome, sexually suggestive man­ner; placing sex devices in tenants’ rooms and common areas of the house; viewing and storing pornographic material in common areas of the house; entering and attempting to enter the bathroom when in use by tenants; and per­forming sexual acts in tenants’ bedroom and bathrooms during their absence.

“We want this unlawful behavior to stop,” said complainant Amanda Coffin, “We are trying to help other women from falling into his trap.” Two com­plainants, Erin Cuniffe and Sarah Ruggles also claim race discrimination. According to the suit, Myers initiated the eviction process against Cuniffe and Ruggles after they each brought African-American friends to the house.

Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County Cooperating Attorney Henry Stancato of Stancato & Tragge, filed the lawsuit in Federal District Court on behalf of the group. The case is assigned to Judge Gerald E. Rosen.

Fonte v Romain Realty

Woman Sues Romain Realty for Race Discrimination in Housing

One of Ypsilanti’s largest landlords, Romain Realty, is being sued in Federal court for race discrimination by a woman who attempted to sublease an apart­ment owned by the downtown company.

Amelia Fonte attempted to take over a lease for a Romain efficiency apartment in late 1997. According to the lawsuit, after viewing the unit and meeting the exiting tenants who told her they were “desperate” to get out of their lease, Fonte, who is African-American, went to the Romain Realty office where she was told that the unit had already been rented. Testing conducted by the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County over a 16-month period supported Fonte’s claim of race discrimination.

Romain Realty, located at 312 Ballard, owns and operates numerous rental units in the downtown and Eastern Michigan University area as well as units on the outskirts of Ypsilanti.

FHC Cooperating Attorney Ericka M. Jackson of Sommers, Schwartz, Silver and Schwartz, P.C., filed suit on behalf of Ms. Fonte. The suit, filed in September, 1999, alleges violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act. The case is assigned to Judge George E. Woods.

WACA v Oakridge

Disability Discrimination Suit Filed Over Violations of Federal Accessibility Guideline

The Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy (WACA) has filed a disability discrimination law­ suit against Oakridge Apartments in Ypsilanti Township. The suit, which also individually names developers Julie A. Fielek and Charles Chatfield, engineer John W. Adams, and archi­tect Joseph E. Sojkowski, alleges viola­tions of the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1989. WACA is a non-profit advocacy group for people with disabilities and their families.

A 1997-1998 investigation conducted by the Fair Housing Center while Oakridge was still under construction revealed that the Holmes Road com­plex had a two-inch threshold leading into ground floor apartments and the leasing office, insufficient space and design in the bathrooms such that the door could not be closed while in use by a person using a wheelchair, insuffi­cient space and design of doorways within the apartments, and no designated handicapped parking spaces. According to the Fair Housing Amendments Act, all multi-family hous­ing built after March 13, 1991, must adhere to seven basic design require­ments regarding wheelchair accessibili ty for ground floor units and units on other floors reachable by elevator.

The suit was filed in October 1998 after meetings between the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy, the Fair Housing Center and representatives from Oakridge failed to resolve the complaint. Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy is represented by Paul A. Callam and Stephen M. Dane of Cooper, Walinski & Cramer. The case has been assigned to Judge Patrick J. Duggan.

12-month Summary of Complaint Activity

(9/1/98 – 8/31/99)
Number of Complaints: 152
Basis for Complaint*
Physical Disability28
Familial Status27
Mental/Emotional Disability11
National Origin8
Marital Status5
Source of Income4
Sexual Orientation2
Student/Non-Student Status2
*complaint may have more than one basis

Congratulations and Thanks!

Congratulations to FHC Executive Director Pam Kisch and husband Paul Sheron the birth of their daughter, Hazel Mari. Hazel made her appear­ance in early August. Congratulations are also due to Special Projects Coordinator Ruth Kraut and FHC Board Secretary/Treasurer Michael Appel on the birth of son Joel Issac in October. Our warmest regards go to both families and we hope they will start talking to Hazel and Joel about becoming fair housing testers!

Our thanks go to Dawn Richberg, who helped us hold the office together as two-thirds of the FHC staff went on maternity leave. Dawn, who recently left the American Friends Service Committee where she worked with the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues Program, assisted the FHC with every­ thing from fundraising to investigations. We appreciate Dawn’s skill, patience and willingness to go with the flow.

Keep the FHC Going Strong
in the Year 2000

Anonymous Donors will Add to first 40 New Member Contributions!

With your help, the Fair Housing Center can turn stories of discrimination into stories of justice. The FHC is the only group in Washtenaw County that pro­ vides testing services – often the only way to uncover evidence of illegal hous­ing discrimination. We need your sup­ port to continue providing investigative services, advocacy, advice, conciliation, attorney referral and community educa­tion. All donations are tax deductible.

Become a New Member.

If you are one of the first 40 new members by 12/31/99, anonymous donors have pledged to add $10 to your contribution. Get the FHC off to a strong start in the Year 2000!

Renew Your Membership.

Whether you gave last year or five years ago, you remain important part of the fight against housing discrimination. We need you! Make a Special End-of-Year Gift. We deeply appreciate those of you who have already made a donation to the FHC this year. Will you consider making a special end-of-vear contribution?

Any contribution, big or small, keeps the FHC working for equal housing opportunity. Just clip and mail the form below in the envelope provided. And thanks for your support!

Disability Handbook Available

“The landlord says that I have to pay for the ramp myself… is this true?” FHC’s fair housing handbook for people with disabilities and their advocates answers this question and more. The do-it-yourself guide includes the stories of FHC complainants and sample letters requesting a range of accommoda­tions under state and federal law. The hand­ book also summarizes state and federal laws protecting people with disabilities in housing. The handbook is free to people with disabili­ties and available at $5 per copy for others.

Shop On-Line This Holiday
Season to Benefit the
Fair Housing Center

CharityMall.com is an internet shopping link between retailers and non-profit organizations. Buy year-round from a Charity Mall retailer and they will send 3-30% of the cost of your purchases to the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County. Charity Mall has links to over 100 diverse retailers including those who sell environmentally friendly products and educational toys for kids. Charity Mall sends 100% of retailers’ commissions to non-profits at no cost to the organi­zation or its members. Type in www.CharityMall.com, select the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County, and start raising money to fight housing discrimination!

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