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Iowa Jury finds Council Bluffs Property Management Company Discriminated Against two Tenants and awards $147,000 in Damages
On June 7th, 2013, a jury in Council Bluffs returned a verdict in a lawsuit filed by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) brought on behalf of Complainants, Charles Anderson and Brandon Morehouse. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission brought the district court action in Pottawattamie County alleging Mr. Anderson and Mr. Morehouse were subjected to harassment and other discriminatory treatment based on their sexual orientation by employees or agents of their former apartment complex’s management company, New Life Multi-Family Management, LLC (New Life), in violation of Iowa Civil Rights Act, Ch. 216 and the Fair Housing Act, Section 818; both of which prohibit interference, coercion or intimidation in housing based on a protected class status.
During the trial, the jury heard evidence that an on-site maintenance technician, Allen Emert, verbally harassed the two men by calling them derogatory terms and slurs, and making offensive gestures on an almost daily basis during March and April 2011. Mr. Emert directed words such as “fag,” “queer,” “butt pirate,” and “pillow biter” towards Mr. Anderson and Mr. Morehouse. Mr. Anderson complained about the harassment to New Life’s on-site property manager, Christine Clark, who failed to take any corrective action. Mr. Anderson then complained to Shirley Spencer at New Life’s corporate office about the harassment and she likewise failed to take any corrective action. The jury also heard evidence that the harassment began early in March, 2011 after Mr. Emert discovered that Messrs. Anderson and Morehouse were sharing a one-bedroom apartment. From that time until they left the complex in April 2011, Mr. Emert harassed the two men on an almost daily basis. The jury also heard that besides calling Messrs. Anderson and Morehouse “faggots” to their faces, Mr. Emert also referred to them by this epithet and other derogatory terms to other New Life employees and residents.
The case was tried by Grant Dugdale and Katie Fiala from the Attorney General’s office. After a four-day jury trial, the jury determined that New Life had discriminated against Mr. Anderson and Mr. Morehead based on their sexual orientation. The jury awarded damages of $22,000 in economic damages and $50,000 in emotional distress damages. The jury also found by clear and convincing evidence that New Life’s conduct amounted to a willful and wanton disregard of the Complainants’ rights and awarded $75,000 in punitive damages. The monetary damages will be paid to Complainants and the ICRC can now seek equitable remedies including changes in policy to New Life’s complaint process as well as training for its property managers and corporate staff regarding their obligations under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act to prevent and appropriately address complaints of discrimination.
Director Townsend said of the verdict, “As the jury in this case determined, there is no place in the State of Iowa for such outrageous and illegal activity and failure to stop such behavior can result in serious penalties to responsible parties. The Iowa Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act were both written to ensure that Iowans are as free from discrimination and harassment in their housing as they would be in their place of employment.”