Federal judge upholds $100,500 jury award in Louisiana racial discrimination case

A federal judge in New Orleans left intact a $100,500 jury award in a housing discrimination case filed against a Lakeview, Louisiana landlord. The eight-member jury, drawn from a thirteen-parish area including Jefferson, Orleans, Terrebone, and St. Tammany Parishes, reached the verdict on January 24, 2002. Federal District Judge Ginger Berrigan upheld the award in a ruling on February 27, 2002.

The jury found that Walter Case discriminated against Lisa Lincoln and Don Weaver, an interracial couple who had attempted to rent an apartment in November 1999. The jury awarded Weaver $100,000 in punitive damages and $500 in compensatory damages.

Jury wanted to send a message to landlord

Lawyers for Mr. Case moved to dismiss the case, asked for a new trial, and alternatively asked for a reduction in damages. The Honorable Ginger Berrigan, United States District Court Judge, denied all motions, citing great respect for the jury’s decision and the serious nature of discrimination actions.

She interpreted the jury’s award to be aimed at sending a message to this landlord and others who violate the fair housing laws.

The lawsuit, filed in the Spring of 2001, alleged that Case refused Lincoln and Weaver an apartment and lied about its availability because of Weaver’s race. The lawsuit further alleged that Case told Lincoln on the telephone that the apartment on 5458 General Diaz Street was available, but said he held a deposit on it after Lincoln arrived to view the apartment with Weaver, who is African American.

White co-worker tested property for complainant

The lawsuit further alleged that when Lincoln asked a coworker, who is white, to call on the property several days later, he was told it was still available. The couple then contacted the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (FHAC) to file a complaint. FHAC, a private, nonprofit fair housing organization, conducted an investigation, which substantiated the complaint.

FHAC arranged for a white tester to contact Case on December 8, 1999. The tester was told that a unit was available and was given an appointment to view the unit the following day. Later that evening, an African American tester was told that the apartment had been rented. The following morning, the white tester was shown the unit. That evening, another African American tester was told the apartment was rented. Twenty minutes later, another white tester was told the unit was still available.

FHAC eventually referred Lincoln and Weaver to Robert McKnight, an attorney, who along with Maureen Jennings, represented the plaintiffs during the trial. "It feels good to think that a jury of my peers believed that my civil rights were important," said Weaver, a military veteran.

"I think we can pull together more as a community when we know that our civil rights laws will be enforced." 

"Although the enforcement process was not always easy, I believe that our commitment to proceed with this complaint was absolutely necessary in breaking down the barrier of housing discrimination. Hopefully, the positive result reached in this case will encourage other people to stand up for their rights," added Lincoln.

FHAC Director: Discrimination is wrong and hurtful but can be addressed

Jeffrey May, FHAC’s Executive Director, said, "We are appreciative of Weaver and Lincoln for coming forward and courageously confronting housing discrimination, when it would have been all too easy to walk away. The resolution of this case reminds us all that housing discrimination is wrong, it’s hurtful, and it can be addressed." FHAC is funded in part by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) grant.

Lincoln v. Case (E.D. La. 2002)
Civil Action No. 01-0955, Section "C"(5)
The Honorable Ginger Berrigan, District Judge
Robert McKnight and Maureen Jennings,
Attorneys for the Plaintiffs