By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio couple who own apartment buildings agreed to pay $850,000 to settle complaints they discriminated against both African-American renters and families with children, a spokesman for the United States Attorney's Office said Monday.
John and Mary Ruth, owners of three apartment complexes located in Massillon, 20 miles south of Akron, agreed to pay $650,000 in damages and legal fees to multiple plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, Stark County, former residents and employees.
The Ruths will also pay a $25,000 fine to the government and $175,000 in damages to 11 former residents and employees after agreeing to a consent order that resolves the lawsuit without trial and without the defendant admitting guilt in the matter, according to U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Mike Tobin.
The federal lawsuit filed in 2011 claims that 10 of the couple's former employees testified that they were instructed to violate the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by allowing no more than one third of all apartment units be rented to African-Americans.
The Ruths told managers, "that African-American tenants were undesirable and decreased the value of the complexes" and that families with children were also not desirable and "should be restricted to basement or first floor units," according to court documents.
Former employees interviewed for the lawsuit said that existing tenants were given "discriminatory treatment in an effort to induce them to move out" and managers were pressured to manufacture grounds to evict them or be fired.
"It is a sad fact that decades after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, many people still face unlawful discrimination when looking for housing," said Molly Moran, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
"The magnitude of this settlement makes clear that the Department of Justice will vigorously pursue violations of the Fair Housing Act."
The settlement also requires the defendants and all employees to receive anti-discrimination training and for the Ruths to hire an independent management company to manage all properties and submit to periodic FHA compliance testing.
(Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Eric Walsh)
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