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Co-op sponsor settles suit on bias in ads.

Co-op sponsor settles suit on bias in ads

The developer and selling agent for a Queens cooperative complex agreed last week to a costly settlement to a suit charging their advertising violated the federal Fair Housing Act.

Three Tower Associates, sponsors of North Shore Towers cooperatives in Floral Park, Queens, has consented to give four black plaintiffs and the Open Housing Center $245,000 and to run 97 ads over the next four years featuring black models.

The suit was actually one in a series of 10 brought in the Southern District Federal Court by the same plaintiffs -- four black individuals and a non-profit housing group -- and it is the largest monetary settlement yet to result from these cases.

The plaintiffs, which include the Open Housing Center, asserted 30 display ads for North Shore Towers in an 18 month period contained no minority models. The four individual plaintiffs -- Luther and Deborah Ragin and Dr. Jerome F. and Renaye B. Cuyler -- are New York residents who were looking for housing at the time.

Also named in the suit, filed in 1987, was Steiner, Clateman and Associates, the marketing agent for North Shore Towers at the time the ads were run -- in the mid 80's. Steiner, Clateman's name was included in the ads.

Saul Clateman of Steiner, Clateman said the plaintiffs only took issue with the display advertisements, not with the actual selling practices at the co-op. The plaintiffs, Clateman said, never visited the co-op and they never applied. "The question is are there blacks out at North Shore Towers?" said Clateman. "Yes, there are minorities at North Shore Towers."

According to the Consent Order, the agreement does not admit any wrongdoing on the part of Three Tower Associates or Steiner, Clateman. Arnold Roth of Rosenman and Colin, which represented Three Tower Associates and Steiner, Clateman in the suit, said, as in all litigation, the client weighed the cost of going forward against getting out.

The ads were created, Clateman said, by an independent ad agency, which brought its own models. Clateman said his firm is not active at North Shore Towers now because the sponsor is not launching any new sales programs.

The plaintiffs alleged that the advertisements were in violation of the 3604 (c) provision of the Fair Housing Act that prohibits creating or publishing verbal or written notices for the sale or rental of a residence that "indicate" preferences for race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or familial status.

"It's not necessary that they do apply [to the co-op] for this provision of the statute," said Anne Osborne, an attorney with Patterson Belknap Webb and Tyler, which represented the plaintiffs pro-bono.

According to Osborne and William Buzbee, a Patterson Belknap who also represented the plaintiffs, it was more than just the all-white models in the ads, which appeared mostly in the New York Times, but also the absence of the equal opportunity housing logo and the language used such as "exclusive country club". The plaintiffs asserted that the ads, and accompanying brochures, constituted "racial steering."

Under the terms of the agreement, Three Tower Associates must run 80 half-page print ads in New York Newsday, two half-page ads in Sunday real estate section of the New York Times, 10 half-page ads in the City Sun and five half-page ads in the Amsterdam News. Seventy-five percent of the ads must contain people and black models must appear in one-third of the ads or as one-third of a group of people.

While, according to the consent order, Steiner, Clateman said it does not have final control over its clients' display advertising, the firm has agreed to make its best effort to recommend to its clients in writing that they run racially integrated ads with human models.

Plaintiffs in Other Suit

Other defendants include prominent developers and selling agents in the New York area and the New York Times, which was sited as the primary carrier of the ads.

According to Kerry Scanlon, of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., which is co-counsel to the plaintiffs on all the cases, many of the cases have already been settled at the administrative level with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. In those cases, he said, the sponsors and marketers agreed to the same guidelines for future advertising, but their settlements did not contain the substantial damage costs or remedial ads. Others, he said, have been waiting to see the outcome of this case. Scanlon did not have available at this time a complete list of defendants and the status of each case.

It appears, after a number of attempts to have their charges dismissed in court, that the New York Times will be going to trial. The parties are currently "in discovery" exchanging documents and depositions, and then they are headed for the trial calendar, said Kathleen Comfrey, an attorney with Shearman & Sterling, the plaintiff's pro-bono representation against the newspaper.

"If you look at the Fair Housing Act," said Comfrey, "you'll see the publisher has an obligation independent of the individual advertiser to comply with fair housing."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Three Tower Associates to run ads featuring black models
Author:Fitzgerald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Nov 27, 1991
Previous Article:Commercial regs begin this Friday.
Next Article:Japanese group sells midtown property.

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