Suits allege bias in ads for retirement homes

January 20, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A month after winning a $2 million verdict against a homebuilder in a real estate advertising discrimination case, a Baltimore-based nonprofit advocacy group for fair housing has vTC set its sights on the retirement community industry.

Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. filed suits Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court charging that discriminatory ads were run in 1992 and 1993 by College Manor Inc., the owner of a retirement home in Lutherville, and Peninsula United Methodist Homes Inc., which runs continuing-care retirement communities in Chestertown and in Seaford, Del.

BNI is accusing the companies of sending a message of "racial preference" for white purchasers by running ads with photographs that included few if any blacks among the models. For the first time, the fair housing organization is naming publishers of the ads as defendants in the lawsuits, said C. Christopher Brown, a Baltimore lawyer who is chairman of BNI's legal panel.

Patuxent Publishing Inc., publisher of the Towson Times and other neighborhood newspapers, was named as a defendant in the College Manor Case; ESS Ventures Inc., the publisher of Mid-Atlantic Country magazine, was named as a defendant in the other case.

Each suit seeks $1 million in damages and an order requiring the companies to use blacks in their ads in proportion to the black population in the area where the ads run.

Though the suits come a month after a Baltimore jury ordered Prince George's County-based Winchester Homes Inc. to pay more than $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages to BNI and a black woman who also was a plaintiff in that case, Mr. Brown played down the timing of the two events.

"BNI has been investigating the advertising practices of retirement homes for the past six months. These two cases are part of the culmination of that effort, and it just happens to be that this is when the work is done," he said.

John Horine, business manager for College Manor Inc., denied that his company discriminates in its hiring or in whom it accepts as residents.

"The ads that we have used in the Towson Times just happen to have been random pictures taken in or around the building," Mr. Horine said. "Everybody in those pictures happened to be white, but there have only been two photo ads in the five years we've been running in the Towson Times."

The Rev. Richard C. Stazesky, president and chief executive officer of Peninsula United Methodist Homes, said the retirement complexes in Chestertown and Seaford have no black residents and that his company ran ads with all white models until about a year ago. But he said his company did not intend to discourage black residents.

"There were no black residents [in the ads], and I guess the answer is we were really running the ads to reflect what's in the place, and we have not had many black residents," Mr. Stazesky said. "But we welcome black residents. We want black residents."

S. Zeke Orlinsky, publisher of the Towson Times, and Jonathan Witty, vice president of ESS Ventures, declined to comment on the suits.

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