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Broker Fights Off Most Claims in Federal Discrimination Case

Short v. Manhattan Apartments, Inc.
(U. S. District Court, Southern District, December 3, 2012)

We were retained three weeks before the commencement of a federal trial to substitute for a prior attorney to defend a real estate brokerage company on a hotly contested discrimination case in which one of the plaintiffs was an impact litigating public interest non profit. The plaintiffs sought over $300k in compensatory and punitive damages on six counts of discrimination on the grounds that the real estate company had discriminated against an HIV infected indigent client on the grounds of his handicap (AIDS) and on his source of income (the New York City Human Resources Administration HASA program). We quickly marshaled a small team of attorneys led by Jay Itkowitz to defend the case, master the pretrial materials and conduct a defense. The plaintiffs were an indigent person who moved to New York City from Washington D.C. and the Fair Housing Justice Center.

Fair Housing Justice Center singled out ABBA Realty, a small brokerage firm, together with Manhattan Apartments, one of the larger residential brokerage companies in the City. ABBA, despite its small size, is ironically one of the leading companies in the City providing brokerage services to the disabled population including persons with active infections with the AIDS virus. ABBA historically has done in excess of 100 leases a year for people associated with the HASA program, serving the AIDS population, at a time when many brokerage companies fail to provide such services.

Nevertheless, Fair Housing Justice Center aggressively went after ABBA despite its extensive track record of assisting people with AIDS because according to FHJC, it used a “segregated” system for serving such persons, i.e. it did not make all of its listings available to HASA clients

Following the conclusion of five days of contested testimony, and the submission of post trial briefs, the Court dismissed all of the claims against ABBA, except a claim based upon New York City’s strict “Source of Income” law, which proscribes real estate agents and owners from discriminating against clients based upon the source of their income for the payment of rent, in this case, subsidies from the NYC Human Resources Administration. Importantly, the Court dismissed each and every single cause of action arising under the Fair Housing Act.

However, notwithstanding that the plaintiffs sought over $300,000 in “compensatory and punitive” damages, the Court only awarded the plaintiffs $12,500 against ABBA on a case that could have been settled with no problem at the outset had the plaintiffs not been interested in seeking a precedent that they could rely on in other situations.

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