Mina Gray et al., v. Derek Brown, et al., 1: 14 cv 225 (N.D. Ohio)

Mina Gray et al., v. Derek Brown, et al., 1: 14 cv 225 (N.D. Ohio)

Discrimination in housing is inherently more private than in an employment setting as abuses can be easily hidden from view. Landlords often meet one-on-one with tenants, have keys to tenants’ homes, and can demand cash only rent payments and verbal lease agreements so as not to create any records. Because of these practices, there may be no opportunity for prospective tenants to compare how others are treated or for tenants to find the evidence needed to bring a lawsuit.

However, in certain cases, the abuses and conditions are so deplorable that no comparators are needed. This was found in the recent case of three female tenants who prevailed against notorious landlords—the Brown Brothers in Cleveland, Ohio. In Mina Gray et al., v. Derek Brown, et al., 1: 14 cv 225 (N.D. Ohio) Judge Donald Nugent held the Brown Brothers and their numerous sham corporations liable under civil RICO and the Fair Housing laws for their terrorization and harassment of vulnerable female tenants. In a December 7, 2015 decision, Judge Nugent wrote:

The Court finds that Defendants have engaged in a pattern and practice of renting to female tenants under leases based upon their perception that such tenants are more easily intimidated and susceptible to threats. D. Brown repeatedly discriminated against the Plaintiffs on the basis of their sex by referring to them as “bitches” and making threatening comments that he would “fuck [them] up” unless they vacated their apartments…The discriminatory statements were approved and ratified by the other Defendants.

The Brown Brothers used bait-and-switch tactics to entice female tenants to rent apartments by claiming repairs would be made or certain appliances would be included. When the women moved in, the repairs were not done and the promised appliances were nowhere to be found. The women’s complaints about the housing conditions were often met with abusive language, threats, and self-help evictions. One woman’s minor child tested positive for lead poisoning and the tenant had a string of profanity and her electricity cut off when the Brown Brothers learned the city of Cleveland wanted to inspect the property. Another woman had her lock glued shut and all of her belongings confiscated because she decided to speak up against the Brown Brothers. It was not until a Court Order was issued that she was able to gain access to the property and attempt to retrieve her belongings. Unfortunately, upon re-entering the apartment with bailiffs, the woman discovered that most of her personal items and those of her daughter had been removed or used. She even found her jewelry container being used as an ashtray.

These three women decided that enough was enough—and they went on to pursue available causes of action under the federal Fair Housing Act and civil RICO statutes. These laws allowed the women to go after the Brown Brothers as well as their sham corporations and successfully obtain a judgment in the amount of $4,050,000. This is not the first time Judge Nugent has allowed a civil RICO and Fair Housing Act case to go forward to protect women. In Eva v. Midwest National Mortgage Banc, 143 F. Supp. 2d 862 (N.D. Ohio 2001), Judge Nugent in ruling on a motion to dismiss, found that mortgage brokers and appraisers who were allegedly operating in concert to defraud women stated a claim and could proceed under those statutes.

Judge Nugent agreed with the three Plaintiffs that remedies under the Fair Housing laws as well as civil RICO warranted extensive relief against the Brown Brothers stating, “Each Plaintiff experienced the loss of a home she had anticipated as a haven—but was instead turned into a nightmare.”

Diane E. Citrino
Giffen & Kaminski, LLC
Suite 1600
1300 East 9th Street
Cleveland, OH 44114
216.621.5161
dcitrino@thinkgk.com

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