City of Greensboro files discrimination suit against JT Hairston Memorial Apartments

by Jordan Green

The city of Greensboro has filed suit against a public housing community and a property management company, alleging that it has discriminated against a resident on the basis of familial status.

The civil suit, based on a discrimination finding by the city’s human relations department, was filed on March 12. On Monday, in a separate legal action, the city obtained a restraining order against JT Hairston Memorial Apartments and Westminster Co. halting a scheduled eviction against LaTonya Stimpson as the mother of four waited for sheriff’s deputies to arrive.

Late in the afternoon, music played lightly from a small boom box outside of neighbor LaIndia Murphy’s apartment, and young men passed a football. Some supporters had set up a grill in the backyard to cook hamburgers and hotdogs, and Stimpson implored her sons, 15-year-old Quentin Dick and 10-year-old Peter Smith, to take care of themselves because she would not be cooking that night. The small apartment seemed impossibly congested with supporters, neighbors and family members.

“We’re gonna celebrate,” Stimpson said.

“Until I move out of Hairston homes, every day is going to be my birthday.”

Stimpson, who has managed to buy time with the help of the city against an eviction ordered last November, indicated that she is impatient with the judicial process.

“I feel that the city is filing the same thing, and that they did not present the case strongly enough in the first place,” she said. “I already knew the order would be filed because I had faith.”

The restraining order filed by Superior Court Judge Logan T. Burke on Monday prevents property management from evicting Stimpson for another 10 days, until March 25, when a hearing on the city’s motion for preliminary injunction will be heard.

The city’s complaint alleges that JT Hairston Memorial Apartments, Westminster Co. and three employees “have shown a pattern and practice of discrimination against families including, but not limited to: [children under the age of 18]; making and publishing statements that are discriminatory; discriminating in the terms and conditions of the tenancies of residents and families; rude and disrespectful treatment of residents based on their status of having [children under the age of 18]; and acts of retaliation against residents who have opposed these discriminatory practices” in violation of the Greensboro Fair Housing Ordinance.

The lawsuit contends that the apartment management’s actions “were undertaken with malice,” and were “willful, wanton and carried out with the intent to discriminate against Ms. Stimpson.”

Amiel Rossabi, one of the lawyers representing Westminster Co., responded, “Our evidence, I believe, is very good that Westminster is doing the right thing.”

The human relations department issued a charge of discrimination against property management on March 9. Signed by Human Relations Director Anthony Wade, the charge finds reasonable cause to believe that JT Hairston Memorial Apartments engaged in discriminatory practices against Stimpson and her children, as “evidenced by policies and rules prohibiting children from areas of the property, reprimands designed to curtail their movement on the property, and enforcing different hours and rules for children using community amenities as compared to adult residents.”

The city cited an “Apartment Rules and Regulations” document signed by Stimpson in August 2009 stating that “children have playgrounds provided for them” and that they are not allowed in the stairwells, laundry room or outside unless supervised by an adult. As noted by an investigator from the human relations department, there are no playgrounds at the apartment complex. Given the cramped quarters in the apartments and the rambunctious nature of children, the children make do with what they have. A December 2009 community newsletter warns: “Parents please discipline your children, the only way management can is to issue you a lease violations. [SIC] Some kids are loud, disrespectful, playing outside late at night, with no parental supervision. Kids are also seen hanging on the dumpsters, climbing on the mailboxes. Please be aware that your child can cause you to receive lease violations and possible lease terminations.”

The city’s charging document also alleges that Stimpson’s 13-year-old niece was denied entry to the computer room at the apartment complex while accompanied by the resident’s 10-year-old son, noting that computer sign-in sheets submitted by Westminster Co. showed that guests were allowed to use the computers at least 12 times in October and November 2009.

“The facts that we’re going to present are going to be different,” Rossabi said. “On two occasions she was allowed to use it. The staff didn’t want to let her use it, but Ms. Stimpson raised a stink about it. Let’s say you have a factual dispute about that. Is there any dispute that the policy says ‘no guests’? No. Is the fact that on occasion adult guests — which to our knowledge has never happened — are allowed to use it, does that make it right to violate the rule?” The city noted that JT Hairston Memorial Apartment’s policy on children’s access to computers is more restrictive than one for another apartment community managed by Westminster Co. The computer room at Hairston apartments is reserved for adults from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for children from 3 p.m. until the office closes at 4 p.m. Like Hairston apartments, Westview Valley Apartments has six community computers with internet access. The city contrasts Westview Valley Apartments’ policy, which allows all residents to use the computers from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., noting that “the site offers afterschool services, and staff has stayed as late as 5:30 p.m. until school-aged residents have completed their homework.”

The city concludes, “No legitimate business reason has been given by the respondents for segregating their computer hours, or enforcing different policies for families with children.”

Rossabi responded, “Because you own a business and you get into business you have to treat all your businesses the same way? I own two Subways and at one Subway I give more meat on my sandwiches, but at both Subways I give good sandwiches.”

The city dismissed on allegation of discrimination made by Stimpson, finding that there was evidence that Westminster employee Stephanie Ridge told Stimpson that she should be trying to find work instead of attempting to attend school because she had just had another child.

Stimpson was one of 19 residents who signed a petition in August 2009 calling for an end to “mismanagement, neglect and abuse of unfair treatment by the staff” at Hairston apartments. In its motion for a restraining order, the city contends that soon afterwards Westminster Co. “attempted to evict several of the persons who signed the letter and petition.”

An affidavit sworn by Stimpson states, “Since 2007, defendants have claimed that I have an outstanding debt. I deny that I owed the defendants any money. However, under threat of eviction I agreed to a payment plan with the landlord. After I complained of the defendant’s discriminatory and abusive behavior my landlord refused payments from me. Instead, the landlord demanded higher payments from me, and ultimately filed a complaint in summary ejectment against me.”

Rossabi said that disputes between Stimpson and Westminster about money owed prior to 2009 are irrelevant, and that the resident is trying to manipulate the system by playing a victim role.

“Our affidavits say that there was never any claim of discrimination from her before we sought to evict her,” Rossabi said.

Toni Curtis, one of the other residents who signed the petition, was evicted on March 10, after management refused to accept payment from funds collected by supporters hours before her locks were to be changed. Now, she is staying in a motel.

A festive atmosphere pervaded Marsh Court on the day the city intervened to stop the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office from executing an eviction. (photo by Jordan Green)

LaTonya Stimpson reviews a lawsuit filed by the city of Greensboro on her behalf. (photo by Jordan Green)