Massillon landlord to pay $850,000 in penalties for discrimination against blacks

U.S. Attorney filed civil discrimination charges

MASSILLON, Ohio - U.S. District Court  reports Massillon-based landlord John L. Ruth has agreed to pay $850,000 in penalties in connection with a civil lawsuit that charges Ruth discriminating against potential black tenants.

The lawsuit was supported by recorded testimony from several former employees who worked with Ruth's Penson Properties LLC, Yorkshire Apartments LLC, and Wales Ridge LLC, from 2000 to 2008.

According to U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach former employees outlined in recorded depositions a pattern of discrimination under which Ruth instructed them to avoid renting units to black tenants at three Ruth-owned Massillon apartment complexes.

According to federal depositions former employee Gregory Mays testified that Mr. Ruth instructed him "we're getting too many black people," and that Mays "was not allowed to show any apartments to African Americans."

According to federal depositions former employee Dona Mitchell testified that Mr. Ruth instructed her that " the ideal tenant was white," and that his properties "stayed nicer" and are "better off when occupied by the working white."      

Dettelbach believes the $850,000 settlement send a strong message. The case was aided by a group of fair housing advocates who came forward to report the discrimination.

"The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office, we were working side-by-side with those people to help protect people's rights," said Dettelbach.

"Fair housing laws in this country are going to be vigorously enforced, and that people who aren't willing to abide by them are going to pay a very stiff financial penalty for not living up to the promises that are made to all citizens under our laws."

The Justice Department issued the following statement on the case.

Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will pay:

• $650,000 in damages and attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed by the Ohio Civil  Rights Commission, Stark County and several former residents and property managers;

• $175,000 in damages to 11 additional former residents and employees identified by the United States who had been harmed by the defendants’ discrimination; and

• $25,000 in a civil penalty to the United States.

Omar Abdullah, who has lived next door to one of the former Ruth-owned properties, told he was aware of the situation.

"It's just almost unbelievable in this day and age that you would have something like that," explained Abdullah.

"If someone was discriminated against I think that they should be momentarily rewarded. I think that would be fair. I don't know if that would wipe it off or not, but still it would be something."

Citizens or tenants who believe they are victims of housing discrimination can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development , or the U.S. Department of Justice .

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