Settlement reached with couple accused of housing discrimination

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CLEVELAND-- The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Monday it has reached a settlement with a local couple over accusations of housing discrimination.

John Ruth and his wife, Mary, have agreed to pay $850,000 to settle a case in which the couple was accused of asking employees of apartment properties they owned and managed in northwest Massillon to avoid renting to African Americans.

Court documents show the Ruths did business under the corporate name 'Penson Properties.'

Depositions, under oath, from former employees make disturbing, racially-charged allegations.

Court records show one former employee said 'Mr. Ruth instructed her that the "ideal" tenant was "white" and that his property "stayed nicer" and "better off" when occupied by "the working white."

Another former employee also claimed, under oath, Mr. Ruth instructed her that "he didn't want me putting a whole bunch of blacks in" so the property "did not turn into a ghetto."

At least ten former employees offered similar depositions, according to court records.

Transcripts of other depositions, released on Monday, detail accusations that employees were coached on what they could say to turn away potential tenants.

"This wasn't a case of one person or two people bringing a lawsuit; this was a case where we sued alleging a pattern and practice of Penson," said U.S. Attorney Steven Dettlebach.

In the settlement, the Ruths deny violating any law or engaging in any wrongful conduct of any type or nature.

In court records their attorneys attribute allegations made during depositions to "disgruntled former employees, many whom claim to have never fulfilled the alleged instructions to discriminate."

Their attorneys also claim to have shown statistics "showing diverse apartments free of discrimination of any kind."

The consent order also reads: "Plaintiffs and Defendants agree that to avoid protracted and costly litigation, this lawsuit should be resolved without a trial."

Plaintiffs named in the federal complaint include eight individuals, Stark County and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission on behalf of itself and a local couple.

$650,000 of the agreed $850,000 settlement is ordered to be divided up between the plaintiffs in the case.

In addition, the Ruths have agreed to a non-discrimination policy for their business that includes a program of education, continuing proof of compliance, and the posting of all available rental units along with fair housing posters at each of their properties.

"The settlement has two components; both are important," said Dettlebach.

"First Penson Properties had to pay $850,000 to correct the wrongs that they had already engaged in; but second, and most importantly, I think Penson should get some credit for also agreeing to some strcutural changes on how they are going to manage these properties in the future to try to make sure that this never happens again at Penson Properties," added Dettlebach.

Attorneys for the Ruths could not be reached on Monday for comment.‚Äč

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