Business Property Lease Lawyer
A Civil War era law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in the making and enforcement of contracts. An Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision demonstrates how the law works. The plaintiff, an African American woman, desired to open a hair salon in a new combined use building leasing commercial space on the ground floor and selling condominium units in upper floors. When her lease application was turned down, she filed suit claiming the leasing company and property owner discriminated against her on the basis of her race.
The leasing company alleged that race did not play a role in the decision. Instead, the leasing company claimed that the lease application was denied because of the applicant’s low credit score, because a salon was not a desired tenant due to the cost of ventilation to mitigate fumes and odors was potentially prohibitive, because of the historically high failure rate of salons, and that salon visitors were not likely to patronize other commercial spaces during their visits.
Under federal law, the plaintiff in a discrimination case must show that she is a member of a racial minority, that the discrimination concerned the making or enforcement of a contract, and that the defendant intentionally discriminated against her on the basis of her race. A plaintiff may prove her case through either direct or circumstantial evidence.
To determine whether circumstantial evidence is sufficient, the court applies a burden shifting analysis which requires the plaintiff to initially establish that she is a member of a racial minority, the discrimination concerned the making or enforcement of a contract and that an apt comparator was not subjected to the same treatment. In this case, the plaintiff showed that she was a member of a racial minority by virtue of being an African American, that her lease application was denied, and that a white person’s lease application was accepted.
Because the applicant met her initial burden, the defendant was required to present evidence of a non-discriminatory reason for the denial of the application. The leasing agent met its burden by showing that the decision was based upon the applicant’s low credit score and the undesirability of a salon as a tenant. Once the defendant met its burden, the plaintiff was required to show that the proffered reason for denying the application was merely a pretext. The salon owner, however, was unable to meet her burden resulting in a judgment in favor of the leasing agent.