Black woman accuses real estate firm of race bias

September 13, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

A Columbia real estate company refused to show a local black woman a home because of her race, the woman charged in a Howard County Human Rights Commission hearing last night.

Linda Thomas-McIntosh, 32, of Columbia said an agent at Century 21 H. T. Brown Real Estate Inc. did not show her a home that she had made an appointment to see on Ducketts Lane in April 1992. Instead, she was steered toward one on Procopio Circle, she said.

"I feel I was treated unfairly because I was not permitted to see the property I wanted to see," Ms. Thomas-McIntosh testified during the hearing at the Gateway Building. "I felt I had the right to choose. [The agent] took that right away from me."

William E. Erskine, the attorney for the real estate company, denied that race was involved in either the company's decision to ask Ms. Thomas-McIntosh to fill out a financial prequalification form or in the agent's decision not to reschedule an appointment to show her the Ducketts Lane house.

"It is a practice to prequalify potential homebuyers," Mr. Erskine said. "The failure to return the phone call [to set an appointment] was not motivated by racial intent."

Ms. Thomas-McIntosh is seeking more than $8,000 in damages, public apologies from the company and reimbursement for legal fees.

The county's Office of Human Rights found probable cause that the company discriminated against Ms. Thomas-McIntosh on the basis of race, which precipitated the hearing before the three-commissioner panel.

According to testimony and statements by both sides at last night's hearing, Ms. Thomas-McIntosh received a flier from the real estate company at her Burtonsville town home in late March or early April 1992 advertising the Ducketts Lane house. She then scheduled an appointment to see the house with the real estate agent handling its sale.

After arriving at the company's office, Ms. Thomas-McIntosh testified that it appeared the agent was surprised she was black. She said the agent asked her to fill out a financial prequalification form, which she refused to do.

The agent then found a listing for the Procopio Circle house, to which she and Ms. Thomas-McIntosh went in separate cars, Ms. Thomas-McIntosh testified. Both sides agreed that the condition of the house was "an abomination."

Ms. Thomas-McIntosh testified that she still was interested in seeing the Ducketts Lane house but that there was no additional time that evening. She asked the agent to call her secretary to schedule another appointment, she said.

The agent never called her secretary, Ms. Thomas-McIntosh said.

She testified that "there was no other basis except race" for her not being allowed to see the house that interested her.

Mr. Erskine said the agent did not call the secretary because she thought Ms. Thomas-McIntosh never wanted to hear from her again after being inadvertently shown a house in such poor condition.

Ms. Thomas-McIntosh "told [the agent] how it was late and that she had to feed the dogs," Mr. Erskine said in his opening statement. "The agent thought that it was pretextual. . . . She honestly thought she was dismissed."

Last night's hearing, which had been expected to last four hours, is the first of four scheduled before the commission on the case. The next hearing is tonight, and testimony will then resume Monday. The commission's decision is expected in the next few weeks.

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