Michael Gunn said he was so upset when he saw his landlord’s poolside “White Only” sign that he believes was aimed at his black daughter that he could not remain living at the Cincinnati duplex.
Gunn testified Friday at an Ohio Civil Rights Commission hearing in Cincinnati that the sign at the duplex where he rented an apartment cost his family emotionally and financially. The hearing was held to consider penalties that could include punitive and compensatory damages against Gunn’s former landlord.
The commission found on Sept. 29 that landlord Jamie Hein, who claimed that the 10-year-old girl’s hair products clouded the pool, discriminated against the child. The commission ruled that Hein, who is white, violated the Ohio Civil Rights Act by posting the sign.
Hein did not attend Friday’s hearing, and a recording said her voicemail was full. The state has said Hein gave up her right to challenge the discrimination ruling by failing to respond to earlier case filings.
A ruling from the administrative law judge who heard the case Friday is not expected for months.
Gunn said his daughter lives with her mother but often visits him and had gone swimming in the pool on Memorial Day weekend in 2011. He said Hein sent him a text message shortly afterward, accusing his daughter of clouding the pool and saying she would have to shower before entering it and wear a swim cap. A few days after that, Gunn said he went to the pool and saw the iron sign stating “Public Swimming Pool, White Only.”
Gunn, who is white, said he was so angry his hands were shaking.
“It’s something you’re supposed to see in history books,” Gunn said. “It’s not something you’re supposed to see posted at the building where you live.”
He determined he had to move to protect his daughter and was not about to let her see the sign or risk having Hein upset her.
Paul Vernon/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The commission upheld its finding that Gunn's African-American daughter's civil rights were violated when Hein banned her from swimming in the pool, citing that chemicals in the girl's hair would make the pool cloudy.
“I did not want her to think that there were people like this or have her think that just because she wasn’t white, people would think less of her,” he told the administrative law judge.
Gunn also testified that he incurred costs from moving, lost work time and higher rent in addition to the emotional stress, but said his primary concern was his daughter.
“She shouldn’t have to think about the color of her skin in relation to what people think about her,” he said.
Elizabeth Brown, executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, also testified — mostly about the impact on the racially diverse community. The nonprofit fair housing agency in Cincinnati helped Gunn file his complaint.
“It’s not just a personal issue,” Brown said. “Cincinnati has had problems in the past and has worked hard to change its image into a welcoming and inclusive city. An outrageous action like this is another hit on the city’s reputation.”
Cincinnati was the scene of race riots in April 2001 when police and demonstrators clashed following the shooting of a black suspect by police.
Civil Rights Section Chief Lori Anthony with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office told the judge that damages are being sought “to send a clear message that racial discrimination in housing will not be tolerated.”
The judge did not indicate when she would rule.