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ACLU Aide Says He Was Denied Rental Because of Political Affiliation, Files Suit

Times Staff Writer

A man who said he was turned down for an apartment because of his political affiliation filed suit Friday, seeking a court order that would require the state to take action on a variety of discrimination complaints not specifically covered by state law.

American Civil Liberties Union attorneys, who filed the suit on behalf of one of their own employees, said they are seeking legal protection for a variety of citizens--from victims of diseases such as AIDS to families who cannot take their children into certain business establishments--who face discrimination that is not specifically banned under the state’s 27-year-old civil rights law.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act specifically prohibits businesses--including landlords--from discriminating on the basis of sex, color, race, religion, ancestry or national origin.

However, the ACLU said in its suit, the state agency charged with enforcing the law has refused to take alleged violators to court in some cases of “arbitrary” discrimination not specifically banned by the law.

Landmark Decisions

Courts have expanded the law over the years to apply it to other forms of discrimination. There have been landmark decisions, for example, that prevented landlords from refusing to rent to families with children and prohibited discrimination against homosexuals in housing and business.

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In the current case, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Dickson Hingson of Los Angeles said he tried to rent an apartment last July. On his rental application, he said he was assistant to the executive director of the ACLU’s Los Angeles office.

“The landlord said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want anybody from the ACLU living here,’ ” Williams said.

Because of the ACLU’s record as a civil rights advocacy organization, Hingson considered it a case of discrimination based on political affiliation and attempted to file a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Complaint Rejected

He was told by a department employee, according to the suit, that the complaint would not be accepted because discrimination based on political affiliation is not specifically prohibited by the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

The suit seeks a preliminary injunction from the court ordering the state to begin processing complaints based on all forms of “arbitrary” discrimination, not just those listed in the act or set forth in the court decisions that have expanded it.

Those who do not have enough money to go to court to protect their rights must rely on the state agency to investigate complaints, yet the agency “has refused for years to accept the expanded definition of discrimination that has been upheld repeatedly by the courts,” said Gary Williams, the ACLU’s assistant legal director in Los Angeles.

Spokesmen for the department, however, say that the state routinely processes discrimination claims based on categories of discrimination that have been firmly outlined by the courts.

Routine Processing

For example, the state now routinely processes claims in which landlords refused to rent to families with children, and cases in which homosexuals have been refused entry to a business establishment, said Earl Sullaway, deputy director in charge of enforcement.

But department officials concede there are some areas of potential discrimination not firmly decided by the courts which the state would not handle: Cases of discrimination, for example, because of political affiliation, or because of someone’s job or employer.

In one instance, buoyed by an opinion from the state attorney general’s office, the department is preparing to ask the courts to expand the act to cover AIDS discrimination in the workplace.

That case involves a Los Angeles man who claimed he was fired from the Raytheon Corp. because he had contracted acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

AIDS Victims

But the department has not been active in pursuing housing discrimination cases against AIDS victims. That is because there is no indication that the Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits housing discrimination against AIDS victims, said John Castello, general counsel for the department.

The department has generally held that victims of other handicaps must go to court on their own behalf if they feel they have been discriminated against, Castello said.

But Williams said many victims of discrimination cannot afford to hire a lawyer and go through an expensive court challenge. The state should be protecting those victims as well, he said.


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