The owners of a City of Orange apartment complex who allegedly refused to rent a unit based on an African American woman's race have agreed to pay damages of $60,000 in a pre-trial consent decree approved this week by a federal judge.
Plaintiff Barbara Johnson answered a June 2011 Craigslist ad for an available $1,280, two-bedroom unit near the pool at the Orange Plaza Apartments. The ad specifically noted that "section 8" government voucher recipients, like Johnson, were welcomed. But management told her after meeting face to face that they'd changed their policy and no longer accepted such voucher recipients as tenants.
Three days after her rejection, Johnson noticed that the complex management had placed a new ad for the unit and, like the previous ad, stated that "section 8" recipients were welcomed.
Johnson contacted the Fair Housing Council of Orange County (FHCOC), where officials sent two "fair housing testers posing as prospective tenants."
According to the lawsuit, the first tester, an African American woman, visited the same manager who rejected Johnson, sought a two-bedroom unit and was told there were no available rentals.
Minutes later, a second tester--this one a white woman--visited the same manager, who--voila!--had a two-bedroom unit immediately available, according to the lawsuit.
Days later, the manager, who'd collected contact information from both testers, called only the white tester to say she enjoyed their meeting and to see if she was still interested in the apartment.
In August 2012, lawyers Christopher Brancart and Elizabeth Brancart filed the lawsuit for FHCOC and Johnson against Orange Plaza Apartments, owners Malcolm Jerome Winer and Maxine Winer as well as manager Karen Smith.
(Malcolm Winer is a longtime donor to the conservative, Tea Party-tilting Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, according to state campaign finance records.)
The Oct. 8 "consent decree and final order" approved by U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell in Los Angeles noted that the defendants denied all the allegations but agreed to settle the case "to avoid further litigation."
In addition to paying $60,000 to the plaintiffs, the defendants have agreed to obey all housing laws, post a federal fair housing law notice in "conspicuous" locations as well as attend fair housing training sessions once a year for two years.
It's been illegal to discriminate against African Americans in housing since President Lyndon Baines Johnson's Fair Housing Act in 1968.
Orange County, the heart of California's political conservatism for decades, embarrassed itself when an elected Republican Party official celebrated Barack Obama's 2008 presidential victory by sending out images of the White House surrounded by a watermelon field.
In 2011, the OC Weekly broke news that another Orange County Republican official, this one in Fullerton, sent emails containing an image of Obama sitting with his imaginary parents, two chimpanzees, in a family portrait.
Yet another local Republican activist, Soviet-born dentist Orly Taitz, continues to lead a national campaign that claims Obama is a secretly-trained socialist infiltrator who was born in Africa and, thus, occupies the White House illegally.
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Less than two percent of Orange County's 3.1 million population is African American.