Cuomo Says Million Dollar Award Sends Clear Message

Department of Housing and Urban Development
Press Release – 20 July 2000


press release

HUD Homes and Communities Photo

HUD No.00-165
Further Information: For Release
In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685 Thursday
Or contact your local HUD office July 20, 2000

CUOMO SAYS MILLION DOLLAR AWARD SENDS CLEAR MESSAGE
AGAINST RACIAL DISCRIMINATION ON THE INTERNET

 

WASHINGTON – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo said today that an administrative law judge’s decision to award more than $1.1 million in damages to a fair housing advocate who received death threats by a hate group leader on his web site "sends a clear message that racial discrimination on the Internet will not be tolerated."

The decision stems from threats made by Ryan Wilson and his Philadelphia neo-Nazi group ALPHA HQ against Bonnie Jouhari and her teenage daughter. Jouhari’s job was to promote fair housing, including helping housing discrimination victims file complaints under the Fair Housing Act. HUD brought the suit against Wilson and his group for violating the Act.

"The Clinton Administration will not permit the Internet to be used as an open sore for hate, prejudice and bigotry," Cuomo said. "And HUD means business when it comes to enforcing the nation’s fair housing laws. If you violate them, even in cyber-space, you will pay the price."

Cuomo said that the award – which totaled $1,166,863 — includes the largest emotional distress award by a court to a single victim in a federal fair housing case — $750,000 was awarded to Jouhari’s daughter. It is also one of only a few published decisions involving emotional distress damages from Internet hate.

In his decision Chief Administrative Law Judge Alan W. Heifetz wrote: "If dedicated and talented fair housing advocates and their families may be targeted, intimidated, and harassed with impunity, then the enforcement mechanism of that Act will be rendered impotent."

Jouhari, who is white, was a fair housing specialist at the Reading-Berks Human Relations Council in Reading, PA. She was also the founder and chairperson of the Hate Crimes Task Force for Berks County, PA, and served on the Governor’s Interagency Task Force on civil tension.

Jouhari and her daughter, Danielle, fled their home near Reading, PA, after the threats and moved to Washington State. The two have since moved several times and now reside in an undisclosed location.

In January, Cuomo announced that HUD had charged Wilson and ALPHA HQ with violating the Fair Housing Act. The charge was a result of threats posted on Wilson’s Internet web site and statements made by him in a TV interview against Jouhari in the summer of 1998.

Wilson’s web site carried Jouhari’s picture, labeled her a "race traitor" and threatened to lynch traitors "from the nearest tree or lamp post." The site also carried an animated picture of Jouhari’s office being blown up by explosives. Wilson also stated on his web site that Jouhari had a "mongrel" daughter, a reference to the fact that her daughter’s father is black. The web site has since been removed from the Internet as the result of a Pennsylvania state court order.

On February 29, Judge Heifetz issued a default decision against Wilson and ALPHA HQ because Wilson failed to respond to the housing discrimination charge within 30 days, as required under law. Following that ruling, a hearing was held in April in Philadelphia to determine if Wilson must pay damages to Jouhari and her daughter, and penalties to the federal government.

In the decision announced today, Judge Heifetz noted that Jouhari and her daughter suffered not only a loss of employment income, but emotional distress "through a relentless campaign of domestic terrorism" over a two-year period. A forensic psychologist testified the daughter was suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Delayed Onset, triggered by her exposure to the threats on the ALPHA HQ web site and the events that followed.

In addition to the monetary relief, the judge has prohibited Ryan Wilson and ALPHA HQ from posting, publishing, or distributing in any public forum (including the Internet) any pictures or references of Jouhari or her daughter. Wilson is also prohibited from discriminating against Jouhari and her daughter or anyone associated with them, and from retaliating against them or anyone else because of their case.

According to Rev. Jesse Jackson, who strongly supported HUD’s actions on the case, "The scales of justice must provide equal protection under the law for all Americans. When leaders like Secretary Cuomo take their oath of office seriously and enforce the law to its full extent, it serves as a deterrent to those who challenge the system."

"Secretary Cuomo is certainly a hero to me," Ms. Jouhari said. "He stuck his neck out to help us. I hope that today’s decision serves as a deterrent to anyone else who thinks they can get away with such torture. That’s been my objective."

Elizabeth Kleinberg, Southern Poverty Law Center lawyer and legal representative for Jouhari added "It was critically important that HUD act decisively in this case. Unless those who champion the rights of others, like Ms. Jouhari, are themselves protected, the enforcement of civil rights laws will be greatly compromised."

Wilson has 15 days from today’s decision to file an appeal to the Secretary of HUD, who routinely designates a HUD official to act on ALJ decisions. Parties may appeal a final HUD decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. It covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation. After a charge is filed, it is heard by an ALJ, unless a party asks that it be heard in federal court.

HUD, like many other federal agencies, has Administrative Law Judges who make independent decisions in administrative law matters before the Department, such as fair housing cases. ALJ’s have career, nonpolitical appointments with lifetime tenure.

This is the second victory HUD has won for Jouhari and her daughter. In May, the United Klans of America and Roy Frankhauser, a self-described chaplain of the Ku Klux Klan, settled a complaint in which he was charged with threatening and harassing Jouhari in 1998. Frankhauser agreed to pay damages and penalties, to publicly apologize to Jouhari and her daughter, and to perform 1,000 hours of community service. He also agreed to display a HUD Fair Housing poster on the outside of his house, broadcast HUD fair housing public service announcements as part of his "White Forum" public access television show, and attend HUD approved sensitivity training.

MONETARY DAMAGES AND PENALTIES IN TODAY’S DECISION:

  • $750,000 in emotional distress damages to Bonnie Jouhari’s daughter
  • $250,000 in emotional distress damages to Bonnie Jouhari
  • $77,793.75 for future therapeutic expenses and lost wages to the daughter
  • $33,683.64 in tangible damages, including relocation expenses, salary loss, and future
  • therapeutic expenses for Jouhari
  • $33,000 in civil penalties to be paid by Wilson
  • $22,000 in civil penalties to be paid by Wilson, doing business as ALPHA HQ
  • $385 in sanctions to be paid by Wilson for failing to appear at scheduled depositions

 

 

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