Weller-Bajrami v. Lawrence Crest Co-operative - 9950095 & 9950096, Final Decision & Order of Relief
Commission on Human Rights and
Opportunities, ex rel.
Catherine Weller-Bajrami, a.k.a. Catherine E..
Weller, a.k.a. Catherine Otero,
Lawrence Crest Co-operative, Inc., et al.,
CHRO No. 9950095 & 9950096
August 28, 2001
FINAL DECISION AND ORDER OF RELIEF
This matter involves the claim by the tenant of cooperative housing, and her children, that they were discriminated against because of her sex, race (white) and physical disability. The Complainant, Catherine Weller-Bajrami, a.k.a. Catherine E. Weller, and a.k.a. Catherine Otero, for herself and as next friend of Tiffany Bajrami, Brent Weller, and Brandon Weller her minor children, hereinafter the ("Complainant") alleges that the Respondent, Lawrence Crest Co-operative, Inc.; Lawrence Crest Co-operative, Inc., Board of Directors; Lawrence Crest Co-operative, Inc., Mary Spears, former president; and, Robert G. Dorr, former Board member, (hereinafter, the "Respondents") violated General Statutes, § 46a-64c(a), et seq., and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 3601, et. seq., enforced through General Statutes § 46a-58(a). The Complainants allege that the directors of Lawrence Crest Co-operative, Inc. ("Lawrence Crest") and the Board's agent, Board past President Mary Spears ("Spears"), (hereinafter the "Respondents") unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of her physical disability, color, sex and marital status in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-64c(a) et. seq. and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 3601 et. seq. (Ex. 1 & 2).
Specifically, the Complainant alleged that the Respondents failed to accommodate her request for handicapped parking privileges while she resided in a unit at Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc., in Waterbury. The Complainant made this request due to her physical disability, which was chronic ulcerative colitis. (Ex. 1 & 2). The Complaint further alleged that the Complainant was subsequently harassed and intimidated by the Respondents as a direct result of seeking this accommodation for her disability. (Id.)
On February 7, 2000, the Complainant filed two Amended Complaint Affidavits (collectively, the "Amended Complaint") against the Respondents in which she incorporated all of the allegations of her original Complaint, and added a separate count alleging that the Respondents also had retaliated against her for filing a complaint with the Commission in violation Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60(a)(4). (Ex. 3 and 4.) The Amended Complaint also added the Complainant's minor children - Tiffany, Brent and Brandon - as Complainants. (Ex. 2&4).
This Final Decision and Order of Relief is the result of a Hearing in Damages conducted on April 30, 2001.
The Complainant is Catherine Weller-Bajrami, a.k.a. Catherine E. Weller and a.k.a. Catherine Otero for herself and as next friend of her minor children, Tiffany Bajrami, Brent Weller, and Brandon Weller. Their address is 474 Center Street 2nd floor, Wolcott, Connecticut 06716.
Staff Attorney, Michelle M. Dumas, of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center located at 221 Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut 06106 represented the Complainant.
Assistant Attorney General Karla A. Turekian, Office of the Attorney General, 55 Elm Street, Hartford, Connecticut 06106, represented the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
The Respondents are:
· Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc., 18-1 Lawrence Street, Waterbury, Connecticut 06708;
· Ms. Mary Spears, the former president of the board of directors of Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc., of 29 Lawrence Street, Waterbury, Connecticut 06708; and
· Mr. Robert G. Dorr, former member of the board of directors of Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc., of 16 Church Street, Waterbury, Connecticut 06702.
Attorney Mark Kostecki represented the Respondents. His address is P.O. Box 2457, 63 Central Avenue, Waterbury, Connecticut 06722.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
The Complainant filed an Affidavit of Illegal Discriminatory Practice (hereinafter the "Complaint") with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (hereinafter the "Commission") on May 14, 1999, Case No. 9950095. (Ex: CHRO-1.) (CHRO-1 is the abbreviation used for Commission Exhibit #1, and subsequent exhibits.) The Complainant filed an Amended Complaint Affidavit with the Commission on the same day in this case on May 14, 1999, Case No. 9950095 (Ex: CHRO-2.) and another Complaint Affidavit in Case No. 9950096. (Ex: CHRO-3.) The Complainant filed an amendment to the latter Complaint dated February 7, 2000. (Ex: CHRO-4.) The Complaints were certified by the Commission to the Office of Public Hearings on August 15, 2000. (Ex: CHRO-5, CHRO-6.) On August 18, 2000, the Office of Public Hearings sent Notice of a Hearing Conference scheduled for September 7, 2000. The Hearing Conference was held as scheduled and, notwithstanding the directive in the Notice requiring that "all parties shall appear at the hearing conference," the Respondents failed to appear. On September 8, 2000 the undersigned issued a Conference Summary and Order in both cases (Ex: CHRO-11; CHRO-12.) establishing procedures and dates for a settlement conference, prehearing conference, production requests and compliance, public hearing, and to address other related activities. In Section IX of that Order the parties were advised that "absent a showing of good cause, failure to appear at any proceeding or to comply with this order may result in the exclusion of testimony or documentary evidence and the entry of a default." (Emphasis added.)
In the above Order, as amended on October 16, 2000, Settlement Conference reports were to be filed by October 24, 2000, and a Settlement Conference was ordered to be held on October 31, 2000. Notwithstanding the above, the Respondent filed their Settlement Conference Report on October 30, 2000, six days late. In that document, filed the day before (Emphasis added.)the Settlement Conference, the Respondents merely denied in general terms the Complainant's allegations, and further stated that they "feel that participation in formal or informal Settlement Conferences would not be productive and accordingly waive said conferences and give notice they will not attend." (Emphasis added) (Ex: CHRO-15.)
In response to the foregoing noncompliance, and failure to appear, the Complainant and the Commission jointly filed a Motion for Default for Failure to Appear on October 31, 2000. (Ex: CHRO-16.)
The Respondents filed an Objection to the Motion for Default on November 13, (Ex: CHRO-17.) three (3) days later than provided for in Sec. 46a-54-97(b) of the Regulations. On November 15, 2000, the undersigned granted the Motion for Default and entered an Order of Default and a Notice of Hearing in Damages, which was initially scheduled for March 5, 2001. (Ex: CHRO-18, and 19.) On November 17, 2000, the Respondents filed a Motion to Set Aside Default (Ex: CHRO-20.), which was objected to by the Commission on November 21, 2000 (Ex: CHRO-21.). Significantly, the Respondents failed to indicate in their motion any attempt to mitigate or to cure their non-compliance by agreeing to appear at any future Settlement proceeding, or to offer any affidavits or specific additional facts supportive of their claim of having valid and substantial defenses. The Commission's objection was therefore granted. (Ex: CHRO-22.)
On March 12, 2001, the Hearing In Damages was re-scheduled for April 30, 2001. At that time, the Complainant and her witnesses appeared and testified. The Respondents did not appear, and did not file beforehand any Motion for Continuance as is required by the Commission's practice and procedure. Their attorney did appear and made an oral motion for a continuance, which was denied by the undersigned.
The Complainant filed her brief on June 22, 2001. The Commission filed its brief on June 22, 2001. The Respondents did not file a brief.
On May 18, 2001, the Office of Public Hearings received and filed the transcript. The Human Rights Referee gave the parties 30 days after the receipt of the transcript to file their briefs Therefore, the record closed 30-days from May 18, on Monday, June 18, 2001.
III. FINDING OF FACTS:
Based upon the complaint, the exhibits and the testimony, the following facts relevant to this decision are found.
1.) All procedural, notice and jurisdictional prerequisites have been satisfied and this matter is properly before the presiding Human Rights Referee to hear the complaint and render a decision (CHRO Ex. 1-19).
2.) By certified mail dated August 18, 2000, the Office of Public Hearings sent a notice of a Hearing Conference to the Respondent and all parties and counsel and advised it, in the way of a Policies and Procedures attached thereto, that failure to attend scheduled conferences could result in a default being entered.
3.) On September 7, 2000, the undersigned issued an Order for a Settlement Conference to be held on October 31, 2000, and in Article IX thereof specified that inter alia a failure to comply with any Order or to attend this proceeding could result in an entry of Default.
4.) By motion dated October 31, 2000, the Complainant and Commission jointly filed "A Joint Motion for Default for Failure to Appear" (CHRO Ex. 16).
5.) By decision dated November 15, 2000, the presiding referee issued an "Order of Default for Failure to Appear" and a "Notice of Hearing in Damages" which was sent by certified mail.
6.) The Complainant is a member of one or more protected classes, in that she is a married white, female with a physical disability - chronic ulcerative colitis. (Tr. 121, 129, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152.)
7.) The Complainant moved into an apartment in the Lawrence Crest Cooperative, in Waterbury, in August, 1997. (Tr. 22.)
8.) The Complainant was required to pay a $1,500.00 down payment on her cooperative apartment. (Tr. 22, 23, 24.) sweat equity not dollars?
9.) The Complainant and her children were so happy with their new apartment they cried when they first saw it. (Tr. 26.)
10.) The cooperative apartment unit had 3-bedrooms and 2-bathrooms. (Tr. 26, 28.)
11.) There was a place on the Lawrence Crest Cooperative application to mark whether the Complainant was handicapped. The Complainant checked that she was handicapped. (Tr. 28, 29.)
12.) The Complainant was receiving Social Security disability at the time she moved into the cooperative. (Tr. 29.)
13.) The Complainant asked the Lawrence Crest Cooperative Board of Directors to assign her a handicapped parking space close to her apartment. (Tr. 30.)
14.) The Board told the Complainant that she had to go to the Parking Authority of the City of Waterbury for permission to park on the street. (Tr. 31.)
15.) The Complainant had a handicapped parking permit from New York and later obtained one from Connecticut. (Tr. 31.)
16.) The Complainant's ulcerative colitis was quiescent when she first moved into the Lawrence Crest Cooperative. However, when the disagreements with the Board and other Cooperative members and their families started, she became nervous and sick which reactivated her Crohn's Disease. (Tr. 31, 32.)
17.) The Complainant formally requested a handicapped parking space at the Cooperative Board of Directors Meeting in March of 1999. (Tr. 33, 34, 36.)
18.) At the Lawrence Crest Cooperative Board Meeting, the Complainant explained to the Board members that she had Crohn's disease and that is why she needed a parking space near her apartment unit and she also explained that she was having surgery soon and that was another reason she needed the space. (Tr. 37, 38.)
19.) Some of the Board members of the cooperative questioned whether she was truly disabled and insisted that she provide them with an explanation as follows:
"Oh, you have to tell us what it (Crohn's Disease) is because how do we know you are disabled."
20.) The complainant went home distraught because of the questions by the board members and their disbelief that she had a disability. (Tr. 38.)
21.) Members of the cooperative were angry with the Complainant for requesting a handicapped parking place and retaliated against her by blocking her truck while she was doing chores after the meeting. (Tr. 39.)
22.) In addition, after the meeting, two of the children of cooperative members told the Complainant, in her apartment, that she was not handicapped and she did not belong at the cooperative. (Tr. 40.)
23.) The Complainant stated in her testimony that as a result of the harassment:
"A lot of nights, I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I'd sit up all night worrying." (Tr. 41.)
24.) The Complainant became so apprehensive of the board meetings that:
"I didn't even want to go to the meetings any more. I'd beg people to go for me … The day before and the day after [the meeting] I'd be sick. I'd just be sick worrying, trying to get someone to go for me." (Tr. 41.)25.) The Complainant's Crohn's disease was aggravated by the stress of the meetings. (Tr. 41.)
26.) The Complainant had an 11:00 P.M. phone call from Ms. Debbie Shapiro, who said as follows:
"… [she] told me that if I didn't knock it off with the parking, that I would be evicted, that they'd find a reason to evict me …" (Tr. 42,)
27.) The Complainant wanted the handicapped parking space next to her apartment unit, not in the street. (Tr. 43.)
28.) At a board meeting, Robert Dorr, a board member, castigated the Complainant for "turning us into the state," because she had filed her complaint with the Commission. (Tr. 44.)
29.) The Complainant felt sick and terrible because she could not believe that the cooperative board and members would be so obstructive, all because of a parking space. (Tr. 45, 46.)
30.) The Complainant never received the handicapped space until just before she moved. (Tr., 46, 47.)
31.) After the Complainant filed her complaint with the Commission, the cooperative members were increasingly rude to her and her children. The Complainant's mother took the Complainant and her children to her home in New York to remove them from the stressful environment. (Tr. 47.)
32.) Members of the cooperative or their families threw plastic bags of garbage and lawn debris on the Complainant's flowerbeds, that she and her father had planted together. (Tr. 51, 52, 53.)
33.) The Complainant stated as follows:
"I found a way where I could park in a handicapped spot; because, I had a handicap sticker…I could park there. They were mad at me for that. And, you know what I mean? They were mad because they wanted me to park on the street. They didn't want me to have a handicapped spot. I don't know what the reason was. I can't read their minds. But, they just didn't want me to have it. So they were trying to just be mean to me…anyway they could…they would." (Tr. 54.)
34.) In addition to the hostile treatment the Complainant received, her children were also harassed by children of cooperative members by bumping them and giving her children the finger. In the end, the Complainant's children stayed inside their apartment in their last year at the cooperative. (Tr. 54, 56, 59.)
35.) At a final board meeting, before she moved, the board members mockingly nominated the Complainant for President of the Board because "… She turned them into the state," by filing her Complaint with the Commission. (Tr. 57.)
36.) The Complainant, her husband, and children moved out of Lawrence Crest Cooperative in April of 2000. (Tr. 59.)
37.) In April of 2000, the Complainant and her family moved into a decrepit apartment at 19 Adams Street in one of Waterbury's undesirable neighborhoods. (Tr. 59, 73, 75, 76.)
38.) In August of 2000, the Complainant and her family moved to another apartment on Elmwood Avenue in Waterbury to remove her children from the undesirable elements in the previous neighborhood. (Tr. 78.)
39.) The physical condition of the Elmwood Avenue apartment was much worse than the Adams Street apartment and dangerous for the children … (i.e., problems with heat, plumbing and damaged sheetrock) unlivable conditions. (TR. 78, 79, 80.)
40.) Due to the unlivable conditions of the apartment and the surrounding environmental impact on her children, the Complainant moved again in March 2001.
41.) Due to all of the above stressors, the Complainant would experience bad attacks of anxiety (i.e., her throat felt like it was closing and she could not breathe). She also had difficulty sleeping. (Tr. 78.)
42.) The Complainant had to undergo an operation called an "ileuostomy," for her aggravated Crohn's disease due to the action of the Respondents. (Tr. 106.)
43.) Dr. Kenneth Selig, a forensic psychiatrist, examined the Complainant and diagnosed her medical condition as ulcerative colitis. Her condition is chronic. Her medical condition is aggravated by stress. (Tr. 121, 129, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152.)
44.) Dr. Kenneth Selig, in his testimony, described the impact of these events on the Complainant in the following terms:
"Basically that she had sustained considerable emotional distress as a result of what had happened to her at the co-op. I'm not going to go through what she went through so eloquently this morning in terms of what she experienced there. But, essentially, it was a considerable amount of harassment and of being singled out in a negative way.
And as a result of this, she became much more ill physically from her underlying medical disorder, which is ulcerative colitis, which is known to be aggravated by stress. She also experienced a considerable amount of anxiety, which was manifested by problems with sleep, with obsessive thinking about what was happening to her, problems sleeping, excessive worry, shaking, problems with depression as well, given a sense of helplessness as to what do, feeling because she was in a bind between on the one hand finding this place to be perfect for her in terms of the dwelling itself but enormously stressful in terms of the interactions that she described."
45.) Dr. Kenneth Selig stated that the Complainant came to feel humiliated, particularly around her physical problems, which she struggles with anyway, and also started to second-guess herself and begin to feel like a failure, being unable to provide herself and her children with a adequate living arrangement. And when that began to occur …, she eventually left. And it continued and has continued in an ongoing way." (Tr. 142, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154. 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166.)
46.) When Dr. Kenneth Selig interviewed the Complainant:
"… she was close to a basket case. She would be constantly crying, shaking, having trouble getting her words out and extremely upset. And that was each time I interviewed her. And she was both very angry at the way she had been mistreated but also sort of self-blaming, as though somehow it was her fault or she had done something wrong or she was somehow inadequate. And she would bounce back and forth between these two positions." (Tr. 144.)
47.) Dr. Kenneth Selig diagnosed the Complainant as having an anxiety disorder which means when she is anxious it is very difficult for her to function effectively. (Tr. 144.)
48.) Dr. Selig gave her a small amount if anti anxiety medication prior to her testimony at the Public Hearing. (Tr. 144, 145.)
49.) The Complainant made an appointment to see a psychiatrist at the urging of Dr. Selig. (Tr. 145.)
50.) Dr. Selig found Catherine had a history of being victimized, abused physically and sexually by a number of different people and as a result of this she had in the past experienced both depression and anxiety, she had her children taken away, she suffered a considerable amount of instability in her life and therefore she remained very vulnerable to the kind of stressors that she faced and described at the co-op. (Tr. 146, 147.)
51.) Dr. Selig found that the harassment by the cooperative board and her neighbors recreated, in the Complainant, feelings of helplessness and of being picked on, harassed, mistreated, and humiliated, which she had already experienced earlier in her life. As a result, she could not remain at the cooperative. (Tr. 148.)
52.) In Dr. Selig's medical judgement, the Complainant's treatment by the Respondents and her neighbors at the cooperative resulted in the worsening of her underlying medical problem - ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's disease as the Complainant described it. Dr. Selig expected this outcome because ulcerative colitis is a medical condition, which is aggravated by stress. (Tr. 148.)
53.) The Complainant's physical symptoms included fecal leakage and she had to wear diapers and be near a bathroom even when her symptoms were not aggravated by stress. (Tr. 148.)
54.) The Complainant's medical condition worsened as a result of the stress she experienced at the cooperative. Since her condition is chronic, there is no real cure. The Complainant had further surgery in 1999 as a result of the stress caused by the Respondents conduct. (Tr. 149.)
55.) According to Dr. Kenneth Selig, one of the treatments for the Complainant's medical condition is the use of steroids; but she cannot tolerate this treatment because it makes her depressed. (Tr. 149.)
56.) Dr. Selig diagnosed the Complainant's psychological condition as the result of her treatment at the cooperative as "Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety Features." In laymen's terms, this means the Complainant was: "… filled with stress, anxiety, worry, tension, anger, obsessing, humiliation, and a feeling of inadequacy." (Tr. 149, 150.)
57.) In Dr. Selig's report, he described (in laymen's terms) the Complainant's symptoms as follows:
"I list a whole variety of symptoms. Substantial worsening of her ulcerative colitis was reported to me and confirmed in the records. Loss of weight, same thing. Poor eating and sleeping as reported to me by her. Anxiety was both reported and observed. Migraine headaches, which I left out of my Direct, was reported. Obsessional thinking in which she thinks about the experiences over and over again was reported. Substantial aggravation and anger was both reported and observed. Frequent crying was both reported and observed. A mortifying sense of humiliation was both reported and observed. And a deep sense of failure was primarily observed, somewhat reported." (Tr. 153.)
58.) Dr. Selig discussed his examination of the Complainant as follows:
"Also, I delved to a considerable degree into Catherine's background because I wanted to understand, if I could, why she had had such an intense reaction. Although the stimuli were significant, I'm not sure that everybody would have had the same kind of intense reaction and that there are other people who may have even been able to stick it out in light of what she had faced.
But, given her background and given her fragility - ." (Tr. 146, 145.)
59.) The Complainant, and her family, moved into Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc. in August of 1997. (Tr. 22.)
60.) The Complainant's down payment was $1500, $300 of which was "sweat equity", which the Complainant, and her family had to work to accumulate. (Tr. 22.)
61.) The Complainant paid $375.00 per month as rent to the Cooperative. (Tr. 25.)
62.) The Complainant also paid gas and electric bills. Her electric bill varied from $50.00 to $60.00 per month. Because she was disabled, she only had to pay $28.00 per month for gas heat. (Tr. 25-26.)
63.) The Complainant left her apartment at Lawrence Crest in April of 2000. (Tr. 59.)
64.) The Lawrence Crest Community harassed the Complainant's children just as they harassed their mother. Eventually, the Complainant would not let them play outside. (Tr. 54, 55, 56.)
65.) The Complainant and her family moved into an apartment at 19 Adams Street in Waterbury in April of 2000. (Tr. 59.)
66.) The Adams Street apartment was in terrible condition and she had to spend a lot of money fixing it up. (Tr. 60, 61, 64, 66; Com. Ex. 24.)
67.) The Complainant paid $525.00 security deposit at the Adams Street apartment. (Tr. 61.)
68.) The Complainant was liable for $525.00 rent for the Adams Street apartment. While she was there (4 months) she paid one months rent and received 3-months rent from the landlord in exchange for fixing up the apartment to a livable condition at her own expense ($1,719.49). (Tr. 61, 67.)
69.) Complainant moved to the 44 Elmwood Avenue apartment in Waterbury in August of 2000. (Tr. 73, 74.)
70.) Complainant paid $525.00 a month as rent for the Elmwood Avenue apartment and a security deposit of $525.00. (Tr. 74, 75.)
71.) The Complainant moved out of the Elmwood Avenue apartment in February 2001 and she moved into 474 Center Street in Wolcott, Connecticut. (Tr. 80.)
72.) The Complainant paid $650.00 per month at the Center Street apartment and $650.00 for the security deposit. (Tr. 80, 81.)
73.) The Complainant paid $95.00 a month for electric and she had to pay a $200.00 to initiate service in the Center Street apartment. (Tr. 81.)
74.) The Complainant was a completely credible witness. (Tr. 1-189.)
75.) Dr. Kenneth Selig was a completely credible witness who testified eloquently in the Complainant's behalf. (Tr. 158-165.)
76.) None of the Complainant's minor children, who are co-complainants, (Tiffany-Weller Bajrami, Brent Weller-Bajrami & Brandon Weller-Bajrami) testified at the Hearing in Damages. (Tr. 1-189.)
77.) No medical professional, neither Dr. Kenneth Selig nor anyone else, ever testified concerning the emotional distress the children experienced when they were forced to leave Lawrence Crest Cooperative. (Tr. 1-189.)
This Hearing in Damages resulted from Orders of Default for Failure to Appear issued by a Human Rights Referee against the Respondents.
In a housing discrimination case, such as this, Human Rights Referees are authorized by law to assess damages against a Respondent or Respondents, against whom an order of default has been entered. General Statutes § 46a-84(f).
As a result, "The hearing shall be limited to the relief necessary to eliminate the discrimination practice and make the Complainant whole" Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies § 46a-64-95(d). All of the allegations in the complaint are deemed admitted, including the allegation that the Complainant was denied "…reasonable accommodation, harassed and intimidated, to keep (her) from the full benefits of State and Federal Housing Law" and the allegation that "…her physical disability, ileostomy, color, white, sex, female; and marital status … was in part a factor in this action."
A. APPLICABLE STATUTES:
General Statutes § 46a-64c provides, in relevant part, that:
"(a) It shall be a discriminatory practice in violation of this section:
(C) For purposes of this subdivision, discrimination includes: (i) A refusal to permit, at the expense of a person with a physical or mental disability, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises; except that, in the case of a rental, the landlord may, where it is reasonable to do so, condition permission for a modification on the renter agreeing to restore the interior of the premises to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted; (ii) a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling; (iii) in connection with the design and construction of covered multifamily dwellings for the first occupancy after March 13, 1991, a failure to design and construct those dwellings in such manner that they comply with the requirements of Section 804(f) of the Fair Housing Act or the provisions of the state building code as adopted pursuant to the provisions of sections 29-269 and 29-273, whichever requires greater accommodation. "Covered multifamily dwellings" means buildings consisting of four or more units if such buildings have one or more elevators, and ground floor units in other buildings consisting of four or more units.
(b) The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA) have been described by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals as follows:
"The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 ("FHAA") was enacted to extend the principle of equal opportunity in housing to, inter alia, individuals with handicaps. See H.R.Rep. No. 711, 100th Cong., 2d Sess. (1988), reprinted in 1988 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2173, 2178-79. Pursuant to section 6(a) of the Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(2)(A), it is unlawful "[t]o discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of a handicap of that person." Discrimination includes "a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling." Id. § 3604(f)(3)(B). The legislative history of this provision indicates that
[t]he concept of "reasonable accommodation" has a long history in regulations and case law dealing with discrimination on the basis of handicap. A discriminatory rule, policy, practice or service is not defensible simply because that is the manner in which such rule or practice has traditionally been constituted. This section would require that changes be made to such traditional rules or practices if necessary to permit a person with handicaps an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling."
Shapiro v. Cadman Towers, Inc. 51 F3d 328 (2nd Cir,1995)
Title VIII of the Civil Right Act of 1968, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 3601, et seq. is enforced through General Statutes 46a-58(a).
The Connecticut Supreme Court has said "…we are properly guided by the case law surrounding the federal fair housing laws … even though there may be differences between the state and federal statutes."
Chestnut Realty, Inc. v. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, 201 Conn. 350, 357 (1986).
Therefore, I shall look to both federal as well as state precedent in deciding this case.
(c) General Statutes § 46a-64c (6)(C) (ii) makes it unlawful for a housing provider to make "[a] refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies practices or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling." In a housing discrimination case such as this, the Human Rights Referee is authorized by law to assess damages against a Respondent or Respondents, against whom an order of default is entered. See Conn. Gen. Stat/ 46a-84 (f). A default order determines the liability of the Respondent for the alleged discriminatory acts, and, once entered, the Human Rights Referee is empowered to "order such relief as is necessary to eliminate the discriminatory practice and make the complainant whole." Id.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-86 (c) provides that the measure of damages awarded to the Complainant in a housing discrimination case "shall include, but not be limited to, the expense incurred by the complainant for obtaining alternate housing or space, storage of goods and effects, moving costs, and other costs actually incurred by him as a result of such discriminatory practice and shall allow reasonable attorney's fees and costs." Further, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-86 (c) authorizes the Human Rights Referee to award damages for emotional distress as "other costs actually incurred," but the damages awarded must be made for compensatory and not for punitive damages. Chestnut Realty v. CHRO, 201 Conn. 350, 366 (1986).
Legal Standard for an Award of Emotional Distress Damages:
It is well-settled in Connecticut law that the "broad authority to award damages under General Statutes § 46a-86 (c) … includes the authority to award damages for emotional distress or other non-economic harm. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Peoples v. Estate of Eva Belinski, 1988 WL 492460 * (Conn. Super. November 8, 1988); Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Harrison v. Greco, CHRO No. 7930433, pp. 12-14 (June 13, 1985). Such awards must be limited to compensatory, rather than punitive amounts. Chestnut Realty, Inc. v. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, 201 Conn. 350, 366 (1986)." Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Little v. Clark and Bauer, CHRO No. 9810387, p. 10 (August 2, 2000).
"[T]he most important factor of such [emotional distress] damages is the subjective internal emotional reaction of the complainant[s] to the discriminatory experience which [they] ha[ve] undergone…" (Id. At 15, citing Smith v. Anchor Building Corp., 536 F.2d 344 (7th Cir. 1971)) and whether the reaction was intense, prolonged and understandable. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Lynne Thomas v. Samuel Mills, p. 7. Second, is whether the discrimination occurred in front of other people. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel Donna Harrison v. John Greco, supra, 15, citing Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities vs. Lampost Inn, 1 CHHR 1685 (1979) and Seaton v. Sky Realty Co., Inc. 491 F.2d 634 (7th Cir. 1974). For this [tribunal] must consider if the discriminatory "act" was in "public" and in view or earshot of other persons which would cause a more intense feeling of humiliation and embarrassment. The third and final factor is the "degree of offensiveness of the discrimination" and the "impact on the Complainant." Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Donna Harrison v. John Greco, supra, 15, citing Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities v. Rhana Pippins, 1 CHHR 1617 (1980); and Seaton v. Sky Realty Co., Inc. supra. In other words, was the act egregious and was it done with the intentional and effect of producing the maximum pain, embarrassment and humiliation. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Lynne Thomas v. Samuel Mills, supra, 8. In addition, it is important to consider further factors that exacerbate the emotional distress suffered by the Complainants. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Aguiar, CHRO No. 9850105 (January 14, 2000).
Finally, "a complainant need not present expert medical testimony to establish his internal, emotional response to the harassment; his own testimony, or that of friends or family members, may suffice….However, medical testimony may strengthen a case. Bushe v. Burkee, 649 F.2d 509, 519 n. 12 (7th Cir. 1981)." Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Little v. Clark and Bauer, supra, p.10.
C. Application of the Legal Standards to the Facts of This Case:
The first factor in the foregoing legal analyses and label by courts and hearing officers as the most important factor is:
"…the subjective internal emotional reaction of the Complainant(s) to the discriminatory experience which (they) ha[ve] undergone…"
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, ex rel. Donna Harrison v. John Greco, No. 7930 433 (June 3, 1985) (Id. 15).
According to the testimony of the Complainant's expert medical witness, forensic psychologist, Dr. Kenneth Selig, the Complainant had a history of both physical and sexual abuse by a number of different people. She also had psychiatric problems in the past, consisting of both depression and anxiety. At one point, her first three children were taken away. She had also suffered a considerable amount of instability in her life. Dr. Selig thought, in his testimony, that "there are other people who may even be able to stick it out in light of what she (the Complainant) faced." (Tr. 146.) However, Dr. Selig went on to state his medical opinion that "given her background and given her fragility" (Tr. 147.) that even though the Complainant found her cooperative apartment to be an ideal place for her and her family, she could not stand to stay there because of the harassment, mistreatment and humiliation she experienced at the hands of the Lawrence Crest Cooperative Board of Directors, other tenants of the cooperative and their children, because she had already been physically and sexually abused by a number of people. Dr. Selig's conclusion is based on the evidence presented in this case.
In addition to her psychological history, the Complainant had, according to Dr. Selig's diagnoses, as well as the diagnosis of others, chronic ulcerative colitis (or Crohn's disease, as the Complainant herself described it). This is an inflammation of the bowel. Dr. Selig thinks there is a strong connection between the bowel and brain and therefore physicians and psychiatrists know that stress aggravates this condition. In addition, her condition causes the Complainant to have been troubled with embarrassing fecal leakage. She has to have access to bathrooms at all times, which is why the Complainant needs a handicapped parking space that is adjacent to or near to her cooperative apartment unit. (Tr. 148, 149.)
The Complainants ulcerative colitis condition worsened as a result of her treatment at Lawrence Crest Cooperative and she had to undergo further surgery in 1999 as a result of all the stress she underwent. (Tr. 149.) Dr. Selig put the stress experienced by the Complainant in the following laymen's terms. As a result of the harassment, the Complainant was filled with stress, anxiety, worry, tension, anger, obsessing, humiliation, and a feeling of inadequacy. (Tr. 149.)
Based on the evidence, I adopt this description as credible for purposes of this decision. The doctor called, in terms of his diagnoses "Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety Features."
On the issue of the Complainant's fragility, Dr Selig, testified as follows:
"You know, I've discussed her fragility. I've discussed her background. And, you know, the fact that she was particularly fragile and vulnerable to the kind of singling, the kind of humiliation, the kind of disregard of her interests, the kind of power plays that were done and that had been described, and that she's been victimized by several others and here she was victimized again. And this resonated very powerfully with her psychologically as a result of that. This was not the first time in her life that other people had mistreated her or taken advantage of her, to say the least. (Tr. 151, 152.)
I also find this diagnosis of the Complainant by Dr. Selig as credible testimony.
Dr. Selig reiterated the Complainant's symptoms on cross-examination as follows:
"I list a whole variety of symptoms. Substantial worsening of her ulcerative colitis was reported to me and confirmed in the records. Loss of weight, same thing. Poor eating and sleeping was reported to me by her. Anxiety was both reported and observed. Migraine headaches, which I left out of my Direct, was reported. Obsessional thinking in which she thinks about the experiences over and over again was reported. Substantial aggravation and anger was both reported and observed. Frequent crying was both reported and observed. A mortifying sense of humiliation was both reported and observed. And a deep sense of failure was primarily observed, somewhat reported." (Tr. 153.)
Based on the testimony of the Complainant and Dr. Selig, as well as the report of Dr. Selig's on his diagnoses of the Complainant, and given assessment of their credibility and truthfulness, I also adopt this as part of my analysis. It is clear to me based on the subjective reaction of the Complainant and her prior history, as well as the severity of the harassment, she clearly proved the first element of her case.
The second factor in my analysis is whether the discrimination occurred in front of other people. CHRO ex rel. Donna Harrison v. John Greco, supra 15, citing CHRO v. Rhana Pippins, 1/CHRR 1685 (1979) and Seaton v. Sley Realty Co., Inc., 491 F.2d 634 (7th Cir. 1974).
For this part of the analysis, "…we must consider if the discriminatory act was in public and in view or earshot of other persons which would cause a more intense feeling of humiliation and embarrassment."
In CHRO ex rel. Aguiar v. Franzilli, Case No. 9850105 (January 14, 2000). The Complainant was publicly harassed and intimidated at the February 1999 Board of Directors of Lawrence Crest Cooperative meeting, when, she was, in essence, accused of lying about the fact she had a disability by the cooperative Board of Directors "Oh, you have to tell us what it is because how do we know you're disabled?" (Tr. 38.)
The Complainant was subject to continuous and extreme public threatening, harassment and humiliation by the Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Board of Directors and Cooperative members and their families. At the 1999 Board Meeting, Robert Dorr stated, in the presence of all the cooperative members who were present at the meeting, as follows:
"I want to make everyone, aware that Catherine Otero (the Complainant) turned us into the state (filed a complaint with the CHRO). And she shouldn't have (done) that. She needs to be married to Jello. And she needs to do things right. And she needs to cooperate." (Tr. 44.)
From the time she requested a parking space in February of 1999 until the day that she left Lawrence Crest Cooperative, a period of over a year, the Complainant was subject to public ridicule, embarrassment and harassment. The Complainant clearly and overwhelmingly has met the second element of the Harrison analysis, whether the discrimination occurred in front of other people and in public. Not only was the Complainant publicly harassed and intimidated at the February 1999 Board of Directors Meeting, when she was accused of lying by the Board about the fact of her disability, She was also harassed by the Lawrence Crest Community because she requested a reasonable accommodation (handicap parking). All of these acts were quintessentially public because it was a concerted group effort by the entire Lawrence Crest Community to ostracize the Complainant because of her request. A request which is justified in the case law, which requires the Board of Directors to provide the Complainant with a parking space as a reasonable accommodation for her physical disability. See Shapiro v. Cadman Towers, Inc., 51 F.3d 328 (2nd Cir. 1995). I determine that the Complainant proved that the discriminatory acts by the respondent were overwhelmingly public. I now move onto the final element of proof for emotional distress damages under Harrison.
The third and final factor is the degree of offensiveness of the discrimination and the impact on the Complainant. In other words, was the act egregious and was it done with the intention and effect of producing maximum pain, embarrassment and humiliation. It is also important to consider further factors that exacerbate the emotional distress suffered by the Complainant. These further factors are consequences arising from discrimination.
The record establishes that the Complainant, who suffered from a chronic medical condition which significantly impaired the functioning of her bowels, was illegally denied the reasonable accommodation of a parking space in closer proximity to her apartment unit at Lawrence Crest Cooperative. The accommodation sought by the Complainant was reasonable in the light of the compelling need that she had to be closer to the bathroom because of her incontinence. The record also demonstrates that the reasonable accommodation was not unduly burdensome to the Respondents because the additional handicapped parking spaces closer to the Complainant's apartment were available.
The record in this case, which includes the Complainant's testimony and the testimony of Dr. Kenneth Selig, both of whom I found very credible, proves, beyond question, that the Complainant was profoundly distressed and adversely affected by the Respondents' illegal discriminatory treatment the entire time that she lived at Lawrence Crest Cooperative after asking for the parking space. The Respondents' discriminatory acts were prolonged (over a year), highly offensive, and egregious and included the following:
· The February 1999 Board of Directors meeting, where she was accused by the Board of lying about the fact she had a disability;
· Blocking of her vehicle by other tenants;
· Barging into her apartment and demanding proof of her disability;
· Dumping of trash and leaves on the wild flowerbed the Complainant and her father had dug and planted;
· Neighbors who doubted she had a disability;
· Harassment of her children.
The Complainant was a victim of a concerted group effort by the Lawrence Crest Cooperative community to ostracize the Complainant because she requested a reasonable accommodation.
The Respondent's discriminatory acts had a cumulative negative effect on the Complainant's psychological and emotional well being. Plagued by anxiety attacks, the Complainant could not sleep, she could not eat and she would stay up all night worrying. The stress of this harassment aggravated her chronic ulcerative colitis. The Complainant ultimately could no longer withstand the stress of the harassment by the Respondents. In April of 2000, the Complainant left her home because, in her own words:
"…(I) was afraid to go outside, thinking they were going to bombard me again. (I) just couldn't rest there no more. It wasn't home any more. The apartment inside was like a castle. But outside, it was like hell." (Tr. 59.)
Thus, the Complainant was subjected to the Respondent's harassment for, in excess of, a year, (i.e., from the February 1999 Lawrence Crest Cooperative Board of Directors meeting until April of 2000), a very prolonged period of time. This was not just one incident but many over a prolonged period of time, which aggravated the stressors the Complainant was subjected to by her neighbors.
Through his testimony at the damages hearing and in his evaluation report of the Complainant which was submitted as evidence during the damages hearing, Dr. Kenneth Selig established that the Complainant had a "history of being victimized, abused physically, sexually, depression and anxiety," (Tr. 147; Ex, 26) and that the Respondents' collective harassment of the Complainant recreated a feeling of "helplessness and of being picked on and harassed and mistreated and humiliated that [the Complainant] had experienced already in a number of situations in her life." (R, at 147-48; Exh, 26). Dr. Selig further testified that Catherine was "particularly fragile and vulnerable to the kind of singling out, the kind of humiliation, the kind of disregard of her interests, the kind of power plays that were done and that had been described [during the hearing]." (R.151.)
The Complainant continued to suffer from the deleterious effects of the Respondents' discriminatory acts after she moved from Lawrence Crest, first to Adams Street in Waterbury, next to Elmwood Avenue, and finally to Wolcott, Connecticut. (R. 59.) Therefore, the Complainant overwhelmingly proved the third element of proof pursuant to Harrison. (R. 72-73; 77-80, 83-85.)
To summarize, when the harassment of the Complainant by the Respondents started the Complainant's underlying physical condition was complicated by chronic ulcerative colitis. Her physical condition according to her testimony, and that of Dr. Selig, worsened requiring that she underwent an operation in the hospital. Her condition significantly impaired the functioning of her bowels which sometimes resulted in fecal leakage.
Her emotional state, according to Dr. Selig, was "fragile." She had a history of panic and anxiety attacks and depression based on, according to Dr. Selig, "a number" of instances of physical and sexual abuse when she was younger. Her underlying psychological condition, again according to Dr. Selig, was aggravated and made worse by the harassment of the Respondents. The Complainant was profoundly distressed by her treatment by the Respondents which lasted for over a year.
Complainant was publicly humiliated at the Board meetings of the Lawrence Crest Cooperative, and in other places and times, when disbelief was expressed about whether the Complainant was actually handicapped. She was also harassed by the president of the board, Robert G. Dorr, who chastised the Complainant for filing her complaint with the Commission -- something she was entitled to do under both Connecticut and federal laws.
The harassment by the Respondents was intentional and done with the intention of producing pain, embarrassment and humiliation.
Human Rights Referee, Donna Wilkerson, has documented in her Aguiar decision, supra, on pages 10-23 a comprehensive survey of the amount of emotional distress awards in housing discrimination cases. These awards range from $1,500.00 to $75,000.00.
The Complainant has amply proven, to my satisfaction, that she has met all of the elements of proof pursuant to Harrison. Therefore, I award the Complainant the $20,000.00 in emotional distress damages she requested.
D. The Complainant's Children:
Complainant's children (Tiffany, Brent and Brandon) were added to her action, as Complainants. The Complainant alleges, in her complaint that the Respondents unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of her physical disability, color, sex, and marital status by harassing and intimidating her because she sought a reasonable accommodation for her disability (i.e., a handicap parking space near her apartment). The Complainant alleged violations of General Statutes § 46a-64c(a), et seq, and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 3601, et seq. The Complainant also alleges violations of similar statutes by the Respondents of her children's rights.
The Complainant also alleged that the Respondents retaliated against her for filing a complaint with the Commission in violation of General Statutes § 46a-60(a)(4).
In the Complainant's and Commission's brief, on page 12, the following statement is made:
"The Complainants' minor children also were victims of the Respondents discriminatory treatment and the Respondents placed unreasonable restrictions on the places where the Complainants' children were allowed to play at Lawrence Crest."
In the Complainants brief, she requests $7,500.00 for each of her children; Tiffany, Brent, and Brandon. Complainant's brief urges that "…her children are entitled to these damages awards for the significant psychological harm that they sustained and in order to be made whole." (Complainant's Brief; p.13.) On page 14, the Complainant also alleges that her children were "ostracized," "bullied by other children," "Victims of abusive behavior by the Respondents."
On page 15 of the Complainant's brief, she argues that:
"All of the Complainant's three minor children were adversely impacted by the frequent moves and switches in schools, and living in compromised conditions."
And, on page 17:
"…the Respondents persisted in harassing, intimidating and threatening the Complainant and her minor children."
The Complainant also testified eloquently about the impact of the Respondent's harassment on her children. The children did not testify.
Dr. Kenneth Selig did not testify about the psychological impact to the children, although, he did testify about their mother, the Complainant.
Although the Complainant and the Commission argued eloquently in their brief of the harm experienced by the Complainants, they did not provide me with any state or federal case-law that would allow me to award emotional distress damages to the children, based on the protected status of their mother. Her protected status, under the FAA, arises because of her physical condition - chronic ulcerative colitis. The children do not share this condition.
Even if I assume that the Complainant's children have the same physical disability as their mother, the children did not testify about the emotional distress they experienced at Lawrence Crest Cooperative, nor did Dr. Kenneth Selig testify on their behalf. There is not enough evidence for me to award emotional distress damages to the children.
Therefore, the claims of Tiffany, Brent and Brandon Weller-Bajrami are hereby DISMISSED.
E. Complainant's Compensatory Damages for the Cost of Leaving Lawrence Crest Cooperative:
I am awarding the Complainant the costs she incurred as a result of being forced to leave Lawrence Crest Cooperative because of the discriminatory conduct, severe and prolonged harassment by the Respondents.
E.1.) Security Deposit:
The security deposit the Complainant was required to pay was $1,500. $350.00 of the deposit was the "sweat equity" the Complainant, and her family provided as required by the Cooperative. That money was retained by the Cooperative for normal wear and tear damages.
General Statutes § 8-214f (d)(1) and § 47a-21(d)(2)(B) provide that the only permissible deduction from the original security deposit is
"for any damages suffered by such landlord by reason of the tenant's failure to comply with such tenant's obligations…"
The statute does not contemplate "normal wear and tear." Therefore, as requested by the Counsel for the Complainant and Commission, I award the Complainant $350.00 - return of the security deposit.
E.2.) Interest on the Security Deposit:
General Statutes § 8-214f(d)(1) that cooperative organizations can
"require resident members to pay a membership fee as a condition of eligibility for occupancy of a dwelling unit provided such membership fee shall be refundable to the resident member, with nominal interest, when the resident member vacates such unit."
The Complainant's Counsel is requesting interest for fifteen-years.
F. Complainant's Compensatory Damages for the Cost of Obtaining Alternative Housing:
The Complainant and her family moved to Lawrence Crest Cooperative in August 1997. They were forced to leave in April 2000. The Complainant incurred the following expenses to live at:
F.1.) Lawrence Crest Cooperative (8/1997-4/2000):
Paid By Due
Security Deposit $1,500.00
Security Deposit refunded by L.C.Coop. -1,150.00
Security Deposit not refunded (4/2000) $350.00 $350.00
Monthly Rent (8/97-4/00) 375.00
Electric Bill-(avg. monthly) 55.00
F.2.) Move to Adams Street apartment (4/00-8/00 = 4 months)
Expense of move (including labor) $200.00 $200.00
Repairs made to Adams Street apartment $1,019.49
Sheet-rock walls 200.00
Carpet installation 500.00
(In lieu of 3-months Rent @ $525.00/mo.) -1,575.00
Security Deposit $525.00 $525.00
(4/00-8/00 = 4 @ $525.00/mo.) $2,100.00
(4 mo. @ 375.00/mo. At Lawrence Crest) -1,500.00
F.3.) Move to Elmwood Ave. apartment (8/00- 3/01= 7 months)
Expense of move (including labor) $200.00 $200.00
Security Deposit $525.00 $525.00
Paid By Due
(8/00-3/01 = 7 months @ $525.00/mo.) $3,675.00
(7 mo. @ 375.00/mo. At Lawrence Crest) -2,620.00
(8/00-3/01 = 7 months @$95.00/mo.) 665.00
(Down Payment) 200.00
(7 mo. @ 55.00/mo. At Lawrence Crest) -385.00
F.4.) Move to Center Street apartment (3/01- 8/01= 5 months)
Expense of move (including labor) $200.00 $200.00
Security Deposit 650.00
(3/01-8/01 = 5 months @ $650.00/mo.) $3,250.00
(5 mo. @ 375.00/mo. At Lawrence Crest) -1,875.00
(3/01-8/01 = 5 months @$95.00/mo.) 475.00
(Lump Sum Payment) 200.00
(5 mo. @ 55.00/mo. At Lawrence Crest) $275.00
G. Attorney's Fees and Costs:
The Respondent's liability for violating General Statutes §§ 46a-58(a), 46a-64c(a) and 46a-60(a)(4) was established by the Complainant after the entry of an Order of Default for Failure to Appear and Notice of Hearing in Damages by the presiding Human Rights Referee. Therefore, the Complainant and the Commission are entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and other costs, pursuant to General Statutes § 46a-86(c) which provides that a Human Rights Referee, upon the finding of a discriminatory practice under General Statutes §§ 46a-58(a) or 46a-64c. "…shall allow reasonable attorneys fees and costs."
Reasonable attorney's fees have been defined by the courts to be, "…(t)he hourly market rate charged by attorneys of similar skill and experience doing substantially similar litigation Ricky and Regina Cooper, et al., v. CHRO, CV No. 990496223 citing to Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 895m 896.
Atty. Michelle M. Dumas has been in practice for three years, two years of that practice has been at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, Inc. For the last two years, she has practiced exclusively in the area of housing discrimination. Her standard hourly rate is $150.00 per hour. Through June 20, 2001, she spent 43.75 hours on this case and is requesting $6,562.50 in legal fees. (CHRO Brief; Ex. A.) She breaks down her time into contemporaneous time records.
This was a difficult case to prepare and try. Counsel for the Complainant was well prepared throughout the pendency of this case. She also did an excellent job of trying it, along with Ms. Karla A. Turekean, Assistant Attorney General. I find forty-three 43.75 hours to be extremely reasonable, given the difficulty and complexity of this case. $150.00 per hour is the standard fee that lawyers charge in the area of housing discrimination law. Therefore, I am approving her total bill of $6,562.50.
H. Expert Medical Testimony:
The Commission and the Complainant submitted a bill from Dr. Kenneth Selig, a Forensic Psychiatrist who evaluated the Complainant and who testified at the Hearing in Damages held on April 30, 2001, $3,500.00. (CHRO Brief; Ex. B.) This breaks down as 17.5-hours at $200.00 per hour. Dr. Selig was very well prepared and presented compelling testimony on the Complainant's behalf. In my estimation, 17.5-hours is a very reasonable period of time to have spent on such a difficult case. Therefore, I award Dr. Selig his total bill of $3,500.00 for services rendered.
The Respondent is also ordered to pay the Complainant's Attorney, Michelle M. Dumas, Esq. the sum of $6,562.50. This is calculated as 43.75-hours of her time multiplied times her standard hourly rate of $150.00 per hour.
The Respondent is hereby ordered to pay to Dr. Kenneth Selig, a Forensic Psychiatrist who testified at the Hearing in Damages, as the Complainant's medical and psychiatric expert the sum of $3,500.00, which is calculated as 17.5-hours of his time multiplied times $200.00 per hour.
Total costs for the Commission and the Complainant are as follows:
Attorney's fees $6,562.50
(Michelle M. Dumas, Esq.)
Expert Testimony $3,500.00
(Dr. Kenneth Selig)
Total Costs $10,062.50
V. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW:
1.) The Respondents were provided with legally sufficient notice of their obligation to attend Settlement Conferences. (Comm; Ex. 7, 8.)
2.) The Human Rights Referee had the authority to enter Orders of Default and Notices of Hearing in Damages. (Comm; Ex. 16, 18, 19.)
3.) The Respondents and the Complainants received legally sufficient notice of the Order of Default and the Hearing in Damages. (Comm; Ex. 5, 6, 16, 18, 19.)
4.) The entry of the Order of Default established the Respondents liability for violations of General Statutes § 46a-64c(a), et seq. and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq. which is enforced through General Statutes § 46a-58(a). (Comm; Ex 16, 18, 19.)
5.) All of the allegations in the Complaints are deemed admitted, including the allegation that the Complainant was denied "… a reasonable accommodation, harassed and intimidated, to keep [her] from the full benefits of State and Federal Housing Law." And the allegation that "…her physical disability, ileostomy; color, white; sex, female; and marital status … was in part a factor in this action." (Comm; Ex 1, 2.)
6.) The Complainant established by a preponderance of the evidence that she was harassed and intimidated by the Respondents because she requested a reasonable accommodation for her disability, chronic ileostomy, by requesting an existing handicapped parking space near her unit at Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc. (Tr. 1-191.)
7.) The Complainant is awarded compensatory damages in the sum of $6,049.49 for the costs of leaving Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc., which includes the expense incurred by the Complainant for obtaining alternate housing and other costs including the following:
· Security Deposits;
· Moving costs;
· Rent differentials;
· The cost of alternative housing;
· Utility (electric bill) differentials.
(General Statutes § 46a-86(c).)
1.) The Complainant is further awarded reasonable attorney fees in the sum of $6,562.50, to be paid by the Respondents to Atty. Michelle M. Dumas, CT Fair Housing Center, 221 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06106. (General Statutes § 46a-86(c).)
9.) The Complainant is awarded the sum of $3,500.00, the cost of her examination by Dr. Kenneth Selig and his testimony at the Hearing in Damages. The Respondents are to pay this sum directly to Dr. Kenneth Selig, 257 New London Turnpike, Glastonbury, CT 06033. (General Statutes § 46a-86(c).)
10.) The Complainant is awarded Statutory interest on her security deposit, which was retained by the Respondents. (General Statutes § 8-214f(d)(1).)
11.) Finally, the Complainant Catherine-Weller Bajrami is awarded the sum of $20,000.00 emotional distress damages because she suffered significant emotional distress as a direct result of Respondents illegal discrimination. (General Statutes 46a-86(c).)
12.) The Complaints of the Complainant's minor children, Tiffany Bajrami, Brent Weller and Brandon Weller are hereby DISMISSED.
VI. ORDER OF RELIEF:
1. The Respondent is hereby directed to cease and desist from any discriminatory acts in violation of General Statutes §§ 46a-64c(a), et seq.; 46a-60(a)(4) and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 3601, et. seq., with regard to the Complainant and all persons.
2. The Respondent shall place posters, to be supplied by the Commission, at the premises of Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc. in conspicuous places visible to all members specifying tenant rights and Complainant Rights pursuant to General Statutes § 46a-64c(a), et. seq., 46a-60(a)(4) and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 3601, et seq. The signs shall be installed not more than thirty (30) days after receipt of the posters from the Commission.
3. The Respondent shall pay the sum of $20,000.00 to the Complainant as emotional distress damages.
4. The Respondents shall pay the sum of $6,049.49 to the Complainant as Compensatory Damages for the cost of leaving Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc.
5. The Respondents shall pay Atty. Michelle M. Dumas' legal fees in the amount of $6,562.50
6. The Respondents shall pay to the Complainant's medical expert, Dr. Kenneth Selig, the sum of $3,500 for his diagnoses and testimony.
7. The Respondents shall pay to the Complainant statutory interest on the $350.00 security deposit in accordance with General Statutes § 8-214f(d)(1).
8. The Respondent shall pay to the Complainant statutory post-judgment interest, pursuant to General Statutes § 37-3a, at the rate of ten (10%) percent a year from the date of this judgement until full payment is made by the Respondent.
Dated this 28th day of August 2001 at the Office of Public Hearings in Hartford, CT.
Hon. Leonard E. Trojanowski
Presiding Human Rights Referee
c: Lisa B. Giliberto, Settlement Human Rights Referee
Catherine Weller-Bajrami, a.k.a. Catherine E. Weller, a.k.a. Catherine Otero
Staff Attorney, Michelle M. Dumas, of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center
Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc.
Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc., Board of Directors
Ms. Mary Spears, former president B.O.D., Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc.
Mr. Robert G. Dorr, former member B.O.D., Lawrence Crest Cooperative, Inc.
Attorney Mark Kostecki
Attorney Karla A. Turekian, Assistant Attorney General