Owner May Be Liable for Race, Religious Discrimination
Facts: A former manager of a Section 8 site sued her former employer for alleged age, race, and religious discrimination. The owner claimed that the manager was terminated for her failure to perform her duties in a professional manner.
In one incident, a resident had died in her unit and the former manager asked the residents to come to a “gathering” in the community room. The manager told the residents who attended that they needed to watch out for each other and told them of a dream she had of walking into a unit that was full of dead bodies and that she didn’t want that to happen at the site. At the end of the meeting, the manager prayed with the residents, during which she “spoke in tongues.” Some residents told the regional supervisor about the former manager conducting a “religious meeting.” The supervisor didn’t follow up on the residents’ comments, but did remind all managers at a meeting of the need to refrain from imposing their personal religious beliefs on the residents.
In another incident, the manager allegedly allowed a resident to move into the site without verification of income, a mistake that, when corrected five months later, resulted in the resident’s rent going from $39 per month to $309 per month. In response, the manager stated that when this resident moved in, she didn’t have a job and paid less rent. After becoming employed, the resident neglected to turn in her paperwork, and when she did, her rent was adjusted in accordance with her income.
The owner asked the court for a judgment without a trial, and in response to the request, the manager responded that as the only black manager, “she was treated differently from all the other white managers, especially the younger managers.” She also claimed that the owner was trying to use her “religious beliefs against her.”
Ruling: A Tennessee district court granted the owner’s request with regard to the manager’s age discrimination claim. But the court ordered a trial to continue with regard to the race and religious discrimination claims.
Reasoning: The manager’s age discrimination claim was barred because the manager failed to exhaust administrative remedies. To succeed on an age discrimination complaint in federal court, the manager had to have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as required by the Age Discrimination In Employment Act.
The court also concluded that the former manager alleged sufficient facts for a fact finder to infer that the owner failed to make a reasonably informed decision regarding her termination. The manager testified that the owner wouldn’t tell her specifically what the residents’ complaints were against her and that the owner never tried to have a meeting with her and the complaining residents to resolve issues prior to placing her on administrative leave and ultimately terminating her.
The manager presented evidence that after less than one year as an assistant site manager she was promoted to site manager. In support of her argument that she was an effective manager, she submitted a letter from a former director that stated that she had “scored higher on her Management Occupancy Review the last year she was there than anyone had ever achieved” at the site. The former manager had also brought the occupancy rate to 99 percent and was never written up for any violations of HUD regulations or policies.
Also, she presented evidence that conflicted with the reports the owner obtained regarding the alleged “religious meeting.” Witnesses stated that no one ever said the meeting was mandatory. The manager denied “preaching” to the residents, but admitted that at the end of the meeting she prayed with residents who chose to do so.
- Simmons v. American Apartment Management Co., February 2014