519 East Front Street
Butte, Montana 59701
(406) 782-2573 / 1-800-929-2611
Montana Relay: 711 - Fax: (406) 782-2781
E-mail: inquiry@montanafairhousing.org

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Record Settlement in Flathead Housing Discrimination Case

April 28, 1999.

In April, seven women and Montana Fair Housing reached a $271,000 settlement in the first fair housing case involving sexual harassment claims to be filed in the federal courts in Montana. The lawsuit was brought in 1997 against Collins Management, one of Montana’s largest property managers and housing providers, and Bruce and Lorraine Gibson, two of the resident managers at Collins’ El Dorita Village in Kalispell.

The agreed Consent Order, filed with federal Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula and HUD administrative law judge William C. Cregar in Washington D.C., is believed to be the largest settlement of a fair housing case in state history.

Sue Fifield, Executive Director of Montana Fair Housing, said “the agreement brings a positive end to what was a difficult experience for many women who lived at El Dorita when the Gibsons were managers. The settlement not only recognizes the harm done to the women who were plaintiffs, but it also sets the stage for preventing anything similar in the future. Montana Fair Housing looks forward to working with Collins Management and other housing providers in the state to make sure their managers and employees are well trained in fair housing laws and that tenants there have a full understanding of their rights to be free from discrimination.”

The terms of the consent order and settlement agreement provide that the seven women share $196,000 for damages and attorney fees and costs in bringing the lawsuit. Individual recoveries were based on the harm experienced and ranged from a low of $13,750 to a high of $50,000 for one woman who was subjected to both sexual and racial harassment at El Dorita. In addition, Collins Management has agreed to pay $75,000 over the next three years to Montana Fair Housing to continue its work in advocating for fair housing throughout Montana, focusing on the Flathead Valley housing market. The Gibsons left Montana in 1996 and are no longer employed by Collins Management.

Some of those involved in the lawsuit see the record setting settlement as the beginning of a movement to seek relief for civil rights violations at the federal level rather than through state agencies.

According to Tim Kelly, one of the attorneys representing Montana Fair Housing in the case, “the real estate lobby and other special interests have made concerted efforts to undermine fair housing and other civil rights laws in Montana. A majority in the state legislature in 1997 and again this year has been very receiptive to the idea of turning back the clock on civil rights protections. The extent of the damage they’ve done remains to be seen, but already people in Montana interested in moving forward on human rights issues will be looking more and more to federal agencies and to the federal courts. This case is a good example. HUD played a major role in bringing a successful conclusion to this litigation.” Federal action on civil rights is not a new idea. Thirty and forty years ago, progress on civil rights, expecially in the deep South, depended on the enforcement of national nondiscrimination policies. State authorities were unwillling or unable to protect their own citizens. “What’s new is that these strategies are now needed in Montana,” said Kelly, “and that trend does not speak well of our state’s leadership, or lack of leadership, on protecting human rights.”


For More Information Contact:

Montana Fair Housing
519 East Front Street
Butte, Montana 59701
(406) 782-2573 / 1-800-929-2611
Montana Relay: 711 - Fax: (406) 782-2781
E-mail: inquiry@montanafairhousing.org

 

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