On August 13, 2014, United States District Court Judge Louise Flanagan refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging a Washington, NC, landlord with racial discrimination. The lawsuit, brought by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2012, alleges that William I. Cochran, III, and several entities that he is affiliated with discriminated against African American tenants over a period of years. The DOJ has alleged that Cochran delayed or refused to perform maintenance or repairs at properties rented by African-Americans, refused to credit them for repairs they paid for or made themselves, verbally harassed African-American tenants with racial slurs and epithets, and threatened, harassed and retaliated against African-American tenants who resisted his discriminatory housing practices.
In denying Cochran’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, Judge Flanagan found that the DOJ’s “most compelling evidence constitutes direct evidence of discrimination or other statements revealing a motivation to make housing decisions on the basis of race.” For example, the court’s decision stated,
[one former tenant] testified that Cochran stated “he wasn’t getting a nigger a refrigerator,” which testimony is corroborated by declarations of her two sons. (DE 121-16 at 34). [Another former tenant] testified that Cochran kept “blowing [her] off” about repairs, and said that after she moved out “another ignorant nigger is going to move in.” (DE 121-39 at 39). After she demanded repairs, Cochran placed a ghost on her front door and stated “You’re black, I’m white, you’re in the South now, you’ll never win against me.” (Id. at 53). [Another former tenant] testified that Cochran referred to disrepair at a boarding house, stating “[t]hese niggers don’t know how to keep my house . . . And I’ll get their asses out of here and I wish I had never put them in here.” (DE 121-62 at 18-19). [Other former tenants] testified that Cochran argued with them about maintenance requests calling them “nigger” and “black bitch.” (DE 121-60 at 18-19, and DE 121-61 at 36-37)…
Considering the most direct evidence of individual instances of discrimination, together and cumulatively with other instances permitting an inference of discrimination, when viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the evidence is sufficient to establish a prima facie case of a pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act. In particular, the evidence the terms, conditions, or of rental, or interference with exercise of rights of a tenant, through withholding repair and maintenance, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b) or § 3617.
The court rejected Defendant Cochran’s argument that his statements that blacks use kerosene heaters, certain black tenants are “not clean,” and references to one former tenant’s children as “monkeys,” do not indicate a racial preference, ruling that “whether the cited statements suggest preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race is a genuine issue of disputed fact for the jury to resolve.”
To read the Justice Department’s press release announcing the lawsuit, click here.
To read Judge Flanagan’s August 13, 2014, decision, click here.