Settlement announced in housing bias case

Group objected to use of only white models in ads

March 22, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

A fair housing advocacy group has settled a complaint accusing the owner of several Baltimore-area senior citizen housing communities of discriminating against potential black applicants by using only white models in advertisements.

Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. filed the complaint in September on behalf of Edna E. Pruce, 70, against The Shelter Group of the 200 block of N. Charles St.

The complaint was filed with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations and accused Shelter of only using white models in printed advertisements for four of its senior complexes in Baltimore, Timonium and Rosedale. In the settlement, announced last week, Shelter will pay BNI $85,000 and Pruce $3,500 and agreed to use multicultural models in future advertisements.

BNI and Shelter agreed that there was no intent by Shelter to discriminate against anyone. Shelter also will develop seminars on fair housing practices.

"The human relations commission has the authority to investigate and try to conciliate the complaint. So, the parties on both sides did conciliate to reach this settlement," said BNI's attorney, Beth Pepper. "We're very satisfied."

Shelter Group officials said they believe the complaint was unnecessary and were happy to resolve it.

"Basically we are committed to all aspects of the Fair Housing Act, and while we did not believe the suit was warranted, we are glad that it is resolved," said Shelter Group senior vice president David Carliner.

Pepper said that if a settlement had not been reached, BNI and Pruce were prepared to file a lawsuit against Shelter. They had a precedent-setting case on their side.

In 1994, a Baltimore Circuit Court jury ordered a Prince George's County developer to pay BNI and a co-plaintiff $2 million in damages for discouraging black homebuyers in the late 1980s by using only white models in advertising.

In the Shelter case, Pruce, identified as a home-seeker, claimed that Shelter's use of only white models in advertising deterred her search for housing. BNI claimed the practice "conveyed an offensive and discouraging message to many blacks."

BNI said it identified Shelter after reviewing advertisements for 106 senior housing facilities in 21 local and regional publications over a one-year period, which concluded with September's complaint to the human relations commission.

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for landlords to pick tenants based on race, and Maryland outlaws renting or selling housing using racially discriminatory advertisements.

Shelter owns dozens of apartment complexes throughout Maryland, many in this area under the name Park View or Brightview.

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