Sunday, November 27, 2016

Illinois Appeals Court Sticks Discriminating HOA With $68K Tab For Victim's Legal Fees, Despite That It Was Only Liable For $3,300 In Damages & Fines For Illegal Treatment Of Lesbian Couple In Violation Of Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance

In Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reports:
  • A lesbian couple who claimed 15 years ago they were discriminated against by a South Side condominium association are entitled to have their legal costs paid, an appeals court has ruled.

    In 2001, Pat Gilbert and Vernita Gray filed a complaint against 7355 South Shore Drive Condominium Association with Chicago's Commission on Human Relations. Gilbert alleged she was prevented from buying a unit in the building because she was white and a lesbian. Gray, who was Gilbert's then-girlfriend and lived in another unit in the building, said she was harassed because she was a lesbian.

    Gray, a gay rights activist, alleged that she was, among other things, subjected to derogatory comments, and evicted when she got behind on her assessments while heterosexual unit owners who were delinquent in their payments were allowed to stay, according to commission records.

    The commission issued a final ruling in 2011 in favor of Gilbert and Gray, finding the condo association violated Chicago's Fair Housing Ordinance. The association, including its president, was ordered to pay a total of $3,300 for emotional distress, compensatory damages and fines to the couple and to the city of Chicago, as well as to cover attorney fees, which amounted to $68,109.05. The commission said, however, there wasn't enough evidence to support claims of racial discrimination.

    In 2012, the condo association filed a petition in Cook County Circuit Court, arguing that its right to due process was violated because "the final recommended decision was issued by a hearing officer who didn't preside over the administrative hearing." It also said that, given the small award for damages, Gilbert and Gray shouldn't have been entitled to attorney fees.

    The circuit court affirmed the commission's decision in 2014, and the condo association appealed.

    On Friday [October 28], the Appellate Court of Illinois upheld the lower court's decision.

    Gilbert and Gray "were entitled to attorney fees, and the commission didn't abuse its discretion in awarding the fees," the 13-page order of the 1st Judicial District said.

    The women "prevailed on a significant legal issue, and the litigation served an important public purpose," the appellate court order said. "The record shows that considerable work was performed in pursuing this case over a course of at least five years."

    The women's law firm was Foley & Lardner, which said it represented Gilbert and Gray pro bono. Its co-counsel was the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Gray died in 2014 at age 65.

    The condo association's lawyer couldn't be reached for comment.

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