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Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll September 14, 2016

Clinton ad: Trump Management was charged with discriminating against black people

Black Americans have "everything" to lose if Donald Trump becomes president, says a recent ad out of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

"Trump management was charged with discriminating against African-Americans and breaking federal law," the ad’s narrator says.

The Clinton campaign has run the ad on cable television in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

There has been a lot of reporting on the subject of the Republican nominee’s discrimination lawsuits, so we decided it was about time we looked, too. We found that the government did, in fact, charge Trump and his real estate company with discrimination, in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Back in 1973, Trump was president of his father’s realty company, Trump Management, which operated nearly 40 apartment buildings comprised of about 14,000 residences total, mostly in New York City.

In October of that year, the federal government filed a complaint against Trump, his father Fred Trump, and Trump Management. The complaint alleged that the Trumps violated the Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, by discriminating against tenants and potential tenants based on their race.

"The defendants, through the actions of their agents and employees, have discriminated against persons because of race in the operation of their apartment buildings," the complaint reads.

Trump and the government eventually settled the claim, so Trump never admitted guilt, but documents prepared by the government describe numerous allegations of race-based discrimination at more than 15 different Trump Management properties.

Many of the incidents involved a black person being told the complex had no availability when apartments were in fact available.

For example, one black man asked about two-bedroom apartments at Trump’s Westminster complex in Brooklyn, and a superintendent told him nothing was available. That was March 18, 1972. On March 19, 1972, the black man’s wife, who was white, visited the complex and was offered an application for a two-bedroom apartment on the spot.

The government lawyers also interviewed several people who said executives for Trump Management discouraged rental agents from renting to black people.

In one case, the government claimed the Trump Management comptroller instructed one rental agent to attach a sheet of paper that said "C" for "colored" to every application submitted by a person of color. Another rental agent said Fred Trump told him to encourage black tenants to find other housing in order to decrease the black population at that particular complex.

Donald Trump called the charges "absolutely ridiculous," according to the New York Times article that originally reported the charges back in 1973. Trump and his company filed a countersuit the following December, claiming the government made baseless charges and asking for $100 million in damages. The court dismissed the countersuit.

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Trump’s campaign did not respond to our requests for comment, but they have continued to deny the charges in recent comments to other news outlets.

Trump and the government settled the case in 1975. Trump Management agreed to train employees about their obligations under the Fair Housing Act and to launch a two-year marketing program to inform the community about their fair housing practices, including giving a weekly list of vacancies to the New York Urban League, among other requirements.

Trump saw the settlement as a success, writing in his 1987 memoir, Art of the Deal: "In the end, the government couldn’t prove its case, and we ended up taking a minor settlement without admitting any guilt. Instead, we agreed to do some equal-opportunity advertising of vacancies in the local newspaper. And that was the end of the suit."

Experts told us that settlements don’t mean the parties involved are innocent, though.

The government settles "north of 98 percent" of these kinds of housing discrimination cases, and often fairly quickly, said Robert Schwemm, law professor at the University of Kentucky and an expert in housing discrimination law. And in every settlement, the agreement allows the defendant to say they’re agreeing to take voluntary action to remedy the problem without admitting guilt.

"That doesn’t mean there wasn’t lots of evidence" against Trump, Schwemm said.

The government brought their suit against Trump five years after the Civil Rights Act went into effect. There was plenty of race-based housing discrimination nationwide at that time, Schwemm said. But the government had limited resources dedicated to this issue, so government attorneys prioritized bringing complaints against big "pattern" cases that they believed would have a broader impact.

Schwemm said of the 20 to 30 Fair Housing Act cases the government brought against fair housing providers in the first five years, he’s only aware of two in New York, including Trump’s, and very few others in cities outside the southern United States.

A lot of the housing discrimination at that time was subtle — like taking a black person’s rental application and just never looking at it. The more blatant sort of discrimination alleged in Trump’s case, that they coded applications based on race, was "not unheard of" but "pretty extreme," Schwemm said.

In 1978, the government wrote a letter to Trump’s lawyers saying they believed the company had violated the settlement by steering black tenants to specific properties, according to the New York Times. But the government ultimately didn’t pursue the case before the settlement terms expired.

Our ruling

Clinton said, "Trump Management was charged with discriminating against African-Americans and breaking federal law."

The government in 1973 accused Trump, his father and Trump Management of violating the Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The case alleged Trump’s realty company discriminated against non-white tenants and potential tenants at numerous apartment complexes.

The government settled the lawsuit, after Trump waged a years-long legal battle, so Trump never admitted guilt. But the company did agree to comply with extensive requirements intended to stop housing discrimination at its properties.

Clinton’s claim is carefully phrased. For that, we rate her claim True.

Our Sources

Hillary for America, "Everything," first aired Aug. 27, 2016

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Donald Trump Affidavit, December 1973

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Federal Housing Act complaint against Trump, October 1973

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, plaintiff’s response to defendants’ interrogatories, March 1974

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Trump case consent order, June 10, 1975

New York Times, "Major Landlord Accused Of Antiblack Bias in City," Oct. 13, 1973

New York Times, "Realty Company Asks $100‐Million ‘Bias’ Damages," Dec. 13, 1973

New York Times, "‘No Vacancies’ for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias," Aug. 27, 2016

Daily Beast, "DOJ: Trump’s Early Businesses Blocked Blacks," Dec. 15, 2015

Village Voice, "How a Young Donald Trump Forced His Way From Avenue Z to Manhattan," July 20, 2015

Washington Post, "Inside the government’s racial bias case against Donald Trump’s company, and how he fought it," Jan. 23, 2016

Email interview, Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin, Sept. 13, 2016

Email interview, George Galster, Wayne State University professor of urban affairs, Sept. 13, 2016

Email and phone interviews, Robert Schwemm, University of Kentucky law professor, Sept. 13, 2016

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Clinton ad: Trump Management was charged with discriminating against black people

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