Filed Date: Oct. 15, 1973
Closed Date: June 10, 1977
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This case was brought against Fred and Donald Trump, and their real estate company, in 1973 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
In October 1973, the Justice Department filed this civil rights case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (federal court in Brooklyn) against Fred Trump, Donald Trump, and their real estate company. The complaint alleged that the firm had committed systemic violations of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 in their many complexes--39 buildings, between them containing over 14,000 apartments. The allegations included evidence from black and white "testers" who had sought to rent apartments; the white testers were told of vacancies; the black testers were not, or were steered to apartment complexes with a higher proportion of racial minorities. The complaint also alleged that Trump employees had placed codes next to housing applicant names to indicate if they were black.
The Trumps retained Roy Cohn, former aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy, to defend them; they counter-claimed against the government, seeking $100 million in damages for defamation.
The case was assigned to District Judge Edward R. Neaher. He dismissed the counterclaim and allowed the Fair Housing Act suit to proceed.
After two years, the matter settled with a consent decree, signed June 10, 1975. It included the ordinary disclaimer of liability (the settlement was “in no way an admission” of a violation), but prohibited the Trumps from "discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling." In addition to a general injunction against discrimination, the decree prohibits specific discriminatory practices, such as lying about the availability of apartments or interfering with individuals' enjoyment of their housing rights through threats or coercion. Fred and Donald Trump were ordered to "thoroughly acquaint themselves personally on a detailed basis" with the Fair Housing Act. The agreement also required the Trumps to place ads informing minorities they had an equal opportunity to seek housing at their properties. According to a contemporary article in the New York Times, Trump Management was required to furnish the New York Urban League with a weekly list of all apartment vacancies, for two years; the League would get three days to provide qualified applicants for every fifth vacancy in Trump buildings where fewer than 10 percent of the tenants were black.
The Justice Department called the decree “one of the most far-reaching ever negotiated.” Newspaper headlines echoed that assessment. The New York Amsterdam News, for example, titled its article “Minorities win housing suit,” and told readers that “qualified Blacks and Puerto Ricans now have the opportunity to rent apartments owned by Trump Management.”
In his autobiography, Donald Trump took a different view: “In the end the government couldn’t prove its case, and we ended up making a minor settlement without admitting any guilt.”
For more information, see Michael Kranish and Robert O'Harrow Jr. Inside the government’s racial bias case against Donald Trump’s company, and how he fought it (Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2016).
In 2017, the FBI released records of its investigation into the Trumps and their real estate company in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents included many pages of interviews with the company's then-current and former employees, interviews with residents of Trump properties, and people who had applied to Trump properties. The majority of interviewees were not aware of any discrimination occurring, but several contributed to the conclusion that the company was discriminating on the basis of race.
One interviewee, a black prospective tenant, noted that, in person, a leasing manager showed her several available apartments but later called her to tell her that she could not have an apartment in that complex "as they discriminated against blacks." He then asked her not to make any trouble as he needed the job.
Another interviewee, an employee of the company for two weeks, indicated that in his time at the company he fielded an inquiry from a black applicant who he judged to be an acceptable tenant but was told by another individual at the company that "they're blacks and that's that." He also indicated that he believed others working at the rental office used a code on the top of the front page of rental applications to "distinguish blacks from whites."
Also in the documents were records from the New York State Division of Human Rights and the NYC Human Rights Commission complaints and hearings about discrimination at Trump properties. The complaints were mooted when the company offered the complaining parties apartments in their properties. A 1968 hearing of the NYC Human Rights Commission, however, found that discrimination had occurred at a Trump property. The commission ordered the company to cease and desist from their discriminatory practices, pay damages to the complainant, and inform a fair housing organization whenever apartments at the property became available.
Terry Howard (12/15/2022)
Catoggio, Vincent A. (New York)
Boyd, Edward John (New York)
Brachtl, Henry A. (New York)
Bacon, Rogers H. (New York)
Cohn, Roy M. (New York)
Catoggio, Vincent A. (New York)
Neaher, Edward Raymond (New York)
Last updated Oct. 26, 2023, 3 a.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: New York
Filing Date: Oct. 15, 1973
Closing Date: June 10, 1977
Case Ongoing: No
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Order Duration: 1975 - 1977
Content of Injunction: