One of the last kids to escape Saigon via U.S. military airlift in the hours before the collapse of South Vietnam in April 1975, Dao--now 44 years old--is suing the city of Tustin and Lennar Homes for alleged anti-Asian and anti-gay discrimination.
According to the lawsuit filed this month in Orange County Superior Court, city and corporate officials involved in an affordable housing program at The Villages of Columbus in Tustin reneged on their 2009 promise to allow Dao, a flight attendant for United Airlines, to purchase a $424,000 new home for just $114,000.
"They told him he definitely qualified," said Bill T. Tran, Dao's Little Saigon attorney. "He paid money. He gave them all the paperwork. They literally rolled out the red carpet for him when they showed him his home. Then, after months, they told him that he didn't qualify after all because he made too much money. But his [IRS] W2s prove his annual income was thousands [of dollars] less than the maximum allowed."
City officials could not be reached for comment.
But, according to Dao's lawsuit, officials announced that he'd qualified on Nov. 10, 2009, and invited him to city offices the next day to sign paperwork and pay $875 in fees. He did so. On Nov. 13, Dao received a "congratulations" letter from Lennar, which also asked him to sign a purchase agreement and pay another $1,000. He did so. On Nov. 16, he was asked to pay a home-inspection fee of $250. He did so. On Dec. 3, Lennar and city officials "literally rolled out the red carpet" for him at the housing development.
But something happened over the next four days. City and company officials announced on Dec. 7 that they were still deciding whether or not Dao qualified. The following day, officials declared he would not be allowed to participate in the program and, Dao alleges, didn't just refuse to provide a valid explanation for the flip-flop, but also treated him with a "very condescending" attitude. When he re-asked for an explanation, officials became "extremely rude" and refused any meetings, according to the lawsuit.
Tran said that Dao, an Orange County resident, unsuccessfully urged the city manager and City Council members to reverse the flip-flop.
"The city of Tustin discriminated against him based on his race and misconception of him being a single gay man working as a flight attendant," Tran wrote in the complaint for unspecified damages.
After rejecting Dao, officials allowed a straight, non-Asian couple to purchase the unit, according to public records reviewed by the Weekly.
Dao--a.k.a. Nghiep Dao--is author of Home Away From Home
, a notable autobiography of his experiences as a Vietnamese immigrant.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly