A real estate brokerage violated the human rights code in the city of Alexandria, Va., by discriminating against an unmarried man in the sale of a home, according to a decision by the city’s Human Rights Commission.
Lawrence Cummings, 52, who is gay, filed a complaint with the commission in February 2004, charging that he suffered discrimination when his offer to purchase a home was rejected in favor of another offer by a married couple. The commission considered whether his marital status and sexual orientation played a role in the sale of a home to a couple who offered less money to the seller.
“The Commission determined that Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. permitted and assisted the sellers in making a decision not to sell a house to Mr. Cummings and otherwise discriminated against him in the terms and conditions of the sale of housing based on his marital status,” according to a public announcement by the city, issued Tuesday. “The eight Commissioners who heard this case did not find that Mr. Cummings sustained his burden of proof to show that he suffered discrimination because of his sexual orientation.”
The commission recommended, in its 27-page decision, that the city levy a minimum fine of $5,000 against Long & Foster, and further recommended two civil penalties of $5,000 each. “(Long & Foster’s) conduct was intentional and they continued to represent the sellers even after admitting that discrimination occurred. We believe this wholly unacceptable and illegal conduct warrants the imposition of civil penalties for violations of the code,” commissioners stated.
Brien A. Roche, a lawyer who represented Long & Foster, said the company was vindicated of discrimination based on sexual orientation, and will consider whether to appeal the commission’s finding of discrimination based on marital status to a court. “The issue of his being gay was, in effect, a non-issue,” Roche said today. He said the city’s commission “has no legal effect, per se – they’re not a court.”
The company is still reviewing whether to appeal the commission’s finding in court, Roche said. “We’re obviously not happy with the decision as it relates to his being single,” he said. While the sellers of the home had agreed to pay a settlement to Cummings to resolve the issue, Long & Foster refused to settle, Roche said.
Dale Edwin Sanders, a lawyer who represented Cummings, said the ruling “was reasonable and appropriate,” and he does not expect Cummings will seek to appeal the commission’s unanimous finding of housing discrimination based on marital status. He did not disclose the amount of the settlement that had earlier been reached with the home’s sellers.
Cummings chose to file the complaint with the city, Sanders said, because “he wanted to make a public statement…and to let people know this happened and it happened to him.” Cummings will not receive any compensation from Long & Foster for any civil penalty that is levied by the city, he added.
Gay men in Virginia are not allowed to be married, and are thus are a part of that larger population of single people, he said. “The ruling says that the sellers deliberately discriminated against the man because he is single. If you don’t like single people – then, by definition, gay people in the state of Virginia are going to also be a part of that (single) population.”
While “nobody mentioned the ‘gay’ word in any sort of evidence,” Sanders said, he believes the sellers assumed that Cummings is gay after meeting him in person. “His gay presence doesn’t translate into the written record. I think the assumption was made.” Cummings viewed the for-sale property with two other men, Sanders said.
A key part of the case, Sanders said, was a recorded telephone message from Anise Snyder, the broker in charge for the Long & Foster office that handled the home sale, to David Howell, the broker in charge for the McEnearney real estate office that represented Cummings.
“On the voicemail, Ms. Snyder admitted that Mr. Cummings’ offer ‘apparently was higher, money-wise’ than the (family’s) offer. She also…admitted that for the sellers ’emotion played the biggest part’ and ‘it had nothing to do with anything else, other than the fact that they fell in love with this little family.” Snyder also stated, according to the commission’s decision, that the family who offered to purchase the house had said, “Oh my God, we love this house, we want our children to grow up here and go to the local schools. We don’t want to change a thing.”
The home sellers, William and Barbara Wilson, had lived in the home for about 40 years and raised their kids there, and Barbara’s father built the house, according to the commission report. The commission found that the sellers’ testimony was at times contradictory. Specifically, the commission noted that Barbara Wilson’s testimony, “was evasive and contradicted her own and others’ testimony. Based on her demeanor and statements, we discredit a large portion of her testimony.”
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