MANHATTAN (CN) – The Douglas Elliman brokerage must stand trial after a realtor allegedly told a family – in recorded phone calls – that their daughter’s motorized wheelchair and service dog could be a “deal killer” in renting a luxury New York apartment, a federal judge ruled.
Joseph and Karla Mancuso said that discrimination against their disabled daughter prevented them from leasing a new home office on 15 Broad Street in lower Manhattan.
Owner John Stimmel rented the apartment in 2006 to another family, which he claimed to favor because they had better credit, higher income and did not require a corporate lease.
Two days later, however, Joseph Mancuso secretly recorded a conversation with broker Gordon Voight, who allegedly admitted that the real “deal killer” was Mancuso’s disabled daughter “M.M.”
According to the transcript, Mancuso asked, “Um, you said that the deal killer was, uh, the daughter, uh, the wheelchair and the dog.”
Voight allegedly replied: “Yeah, they were really concerned about scraping up things. They – they feel bad about, you know, the daughter and everything, but he was just – they – he’s just trying to protect his apartment, that’s all.”
Later, Voight added, “That’s been – yeah, it’s gonna be kind of the deal killer, yeah.”
In a subsequent phone call, Voight said that Stimmel was “neurotic about the wheelchair.”
“If you didn’t have anything, we already would have signed leases,” he added.
Voight insisted during deposition that he meant “if Mr. Mancuso did not have all the office equipment and if he agreed to the asking rent, we would have had a deal.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell ruled Friday that a jury should resolve whether the motive was discriminatory.
“Although a reasonable jury could interpret that concern as evincing no discriminatory intent, a reasonable jury could also find that Stimmel’s decision to reject Mancuso had a discriminatory motive given Voight’s recorded ‘deal killer’ and ‘neurotic’ comments,” Holwell wrote.