Plaintiffs Protest As All-white Ads Suit Gets All-white Jury

Lawyersfor Pasadena Town Home Developer Strike 3 Blacks From Panel

October 08, 1991|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

Over the objections of lawyers for a fair housing advocacy group, anall-white jury was selected yesterday to determine whether an "all-white model" advertising campaign was used to discourage blacks from moving into a Pasadena town house development.

All three black potential jurors were removed by the developer's lawyers.

"It's against the law to strike jurors because they are black," complained Christopher Brown, an attorney representing black homebuyerKim Fenwick-Schafer and Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a fair housingadvocacy group.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 6-3, that attorneys in civil cases could not use their "automatic strikes" during jury selection to keep members of a given race off juries.

Brown used all four of his strikes to eliminate white potential jurors.

In what U.S. District Judge Norman P. Ramsey described as a "very complex and offbeat" racial discrimination case, Fenwick-Schafer and BNI are asking the court for $1 million in damages. They charge Sterling Homes, developers of the Stoney Creek community near Brandon Shores, and the Jordan-Azzam advertising agency intentionally screened blacks out of the development by not portraying them in the ads.

Fenwick-Schafer, who took the stand shortly before Ramsey adjourned for the day, said she and her husband were looking for a moderately pricedand racially integrated neighborhood to move into in the fall of 1989.

When she saw Stoney Creek's all-white ad campaign published in The Sun week after week, she said, she got a "negative" feeling that deterred her from even going to look at the property.

"The messagereally said that blacks shouldn't apply. It sent a message to me that they were trying really hard not to attract blacks to the development," said Fenwick-Schafer, a Baltimore native who eventually bought ahome in White Marsh, Baltimore County.

Research by BNI showed that between 1988 and April 1990, Woodlawn-based Sterling and Baltimore-based Jordan-Azzam ran nine advertising campaigns for the developmentwithout using any black models.

In all, 50 ads were placed in TheSun, City Paper, Columbia Flier, New Homes Guide, Baltimore magazineand The Annapolitan portraying 90 white people sailing, sunbathing and sitting out on rocks near the development.

Even though each ad ran with an "Equal Housing Opportunity" statement and logo, the plaintiffs say Sterling's omission of black models in a metropolitan area market that is 26 percent black violates the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Michael Smith, representing Woodlawn-based Sterling Homes, denied that Sterling was attempting to exclude any racial group from its development. He said all-white models in advertising campaigns do not necessarily imply racial bias.

He said the ad campaign was designed, without regard to race, to promote the reputation, price, product,location and waterfront lifestyle of the development.

"And what are the results? People from all walks of life came out," Smith said. "Young and old, white and black, we even have an Asian-Indian in the development."

At least eight black families have moved in among the 170 completed Stoney Beach town houses, Brown said, saying he is not contesting how black potential homebuyers were treated by Stoney Beach sales agents.

Both sides intend to introduce expert testimony later this week on what impact the racial composition of real estate ad campaigns has on minorities.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.