Meridian landlord agrees to settlement in federal lawsuit
By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
May 24, 2002
Alden "Bubber" Wallace, a Meridian landlord accused of segregating white and black tenants and maintaining race-coded vacancy lists that discriminated against black applicants, has settled claims with the U.S. Justice Department.
The Justice Department complaint was filed in December 2000 against Wallace, his wife, Priscilla, and his mother, Nell. Wallace managed more than 200 rental properties.
In the settlement, the Wallaces agreed to give up management of their rental property and pay $330,000 in civil penalties and damages. The government said $310,000 will go into a victims fund to compensate victims of the alleged discrimination.
Among the charges were that the Wallaces evicted blacks from properties designated for whites and imposed tougher lease terms on blacks.
The complaint also charged that blacks who sought housing were not informed of vacancies in designated white properties. People who sounded black'' when calling would be referred to apartments listed on the so-called No. 2 list, for blacks, the suit said. A No. 1 list was for white callers only, the government contended.
The settlement was approved Thursday in U.S. District Court in Jackson, said U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton.
This is the first settlement in a race discrimination case which permanently bars the individual defendants from the management of their properties and it should serve as a wake-up call to any landlords engaged in similar conduct,'' Lampton said.
Wallace denies all of the government's charges, and said Thursday his decision to settle the claims against him was motivated by financial considerations.
Wallace described himself as a "minority landlord," and does not deny making records of the race of tenants and potential tenants. He says, however, that he gathered the information for the purpose of better targeting his marketing and advertising efforts.
What happens to the business?
Properties affected by the settlement include homes throughout Meridian in addition to the Valley Mobile Home Park, the Louie Lee apartment building on Frontage Road and other trailer parks and single family homes on Jeffrey Acres Road, Causeyville Road and Long's Lane.
Lampton said under terms of the settlement, the Wallaces will turn over management of their properties to an outside company and have nothing to do with tenant affairs. They also will not be allowed on the property unless it is vacant and they are accompanied by management company staff, Lampton said.
Wallace said Thursday that Ken Cantrell of Florence, Ala., will take over the management of his rental properties.
Wallace said he plans to continue to buy rental properties in Meridian to "provide housing for people in need regardless of their race."
The next lawsuit
Meanwhile, in Lauderdale County Circuit Court, a separate lawsuit filed by the former employee who complained of Wallace's practices to the U.S. Justice Department has been on hold pending the outcome of the federal case.
Holly Jackson worked for Wallace from March to July of 2000 and was scheduled to testify in his trial in U.S. District Court later this summer.
Jackson's attorney is Dennis L. Horn of Madison, who specializes in employment and labor litigation.
The lawsuit alleges, in part, that Jackson was fired for refusing to follow Wallace's instructions to perform illegal and discriminatory acts and for complaining of them. In addition to back pay, the suit asks for more than $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Horn said Thursday that information from the federal lawsuit will now be incorporated into the Lauderdale County Circuit Court case and that he will be seeking a trial date in the near future.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Former employee Holly Jackson filed a separate "whistle-blower" lawsuit against Alden Wallace in February 2001 in Lauderdale County Circuit Court. It has been on hold pending the outcome of the federal case in U.S. District Court, but can now proceed.