One of the area’s largest apartment management companies has been directed to train its employees to comply with civil rights laws and prohibit housing discrimination as part of a $317,000 settlement of a lawsuit alleging prejudice against blacks.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leon Savitch issued the order Monday against Beaumont Property Management Co. Inc., which operates about 10,000 apartments in about 250 buildings throughout Southern California.
“It is the nation’s largest injunction” in a housing discrimination case, said Patrick O. Patterson, western regional counsel of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented the plaintiffs.
The monetary compensation is the second largest in a housing discrimination suit, Patterson said. The largest, $450,000, came in a February settlement of a case involving a black airline employee who was rejected as a tenant at a Westchester apartment complex. That settlement also was negotiated by the legal defense fund.
Beaumont has faced three other housing discrimination complaints, including one last year that resulted in the firm having to pay $20,000 in damages to a racially mixed couple. The company’s executive vice president, Gary Holme, is president of the Los Angeles Board of Realtors.
The most recent lawsuit, filed in April, 1989, was triggered by Nathan Beams, a 52-year-old executive with a title insurance company, who is the son of a black man and a white Jewish woman.
Beams moved to Southern California from Oakland in 1988 and answered a newspaper advertisement for a one-bedroom, furnished apartment at Casa Verde, a complex in Encino near his office.
He made an appointment with the manager over the phone, but said that when he arrived, dressed in a business suit, he was told all apartments were rented. Four days later, he saw another ad for Casa Verde. He said in an interview that he identified himself over the phone and was told again that there were no vacancies.
“I said to myself, ‘Why wouldn’t they rent to me? I hope it wasn’t because I was black,”’ he said.
At the time, he said, he was visiting his rabbi. The rabbi sent a white woman to the building as a prospective tenant. She returned with an application and the manager’s business card. She had been told the rent was negotiable and that the apartment could be occupied immediately, Beams said.
“I was appalled. I was shocked, even though I’d suspected it,” Beams said.
When he was a teen-ager, Beams said, neighbors had offered to buy out the family after his father had built a house in a white community in Sacramento. His father refused, Beams said, and, more than 30 years later, “I felt that this was my time. I felt that I had to do something.”
Beams contacted the Fair Housing Congress of Southern California, which sent its own test applicants to the building.
One was Marcella Dix-Brown, the anti-discrimination group’s executive director, who is black. Dix-Brown said that when she asked to see the apartment, the manager told her it had just been rented. Twenty minutes later, Dix-Brown’s white assistant was offered a unit at the complex.
In all, six blacks received “significantly differential treatment” than whites at seven Beaumont buildings and one that had been formerly operated by the firm, but was not at the time of the test, according to the settlement.
The building managers involved are still employed by Beaumont, said Gregory M. Bergman, an attorney for the firm.
“There might have been a misunderstanding, but there was definitely not discrimination,” he said. “Beaumont has fired managers in the past for discrimination.”
The suit was filed on behalf of the Fair Housing Congress, Beams and the five black testers by the legal defense fund and the private law firm of Morrison & Foerster.
The settlement money will go to the six individual plaintiffs, the Fair Housing Congress and to pay attorneys.