*Comedian George Wilborn’s housing discrimination case is now in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department.
As previously reported, the Chicago radio personality claims he was the victim of racial discrimination because of his family’s failed efforts to buy a home in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a federal housing discrimination complaint this month against Bridgeport homeowners Daniel and Adrienne Sabbia, Prudential Rubloff Properties and real estate agent Jeffrey Lowe. HUD said they violated the Fair Housing Act when the Sabbias backed out of a verbal agreement to sell the $1.799 million home to the Willborns, who are African-American.
The matter could have been handled as an administrative case by HUD or in the federal court system by the Justice Department. The Willborns elected to transfer the matter to federal court, which means the Justice Department has, by statute, 30 days to file a case, reports the Associated Press.
The transfer to the federal court system means the Willborns could be eligible to receive punitive damages as well as compensatory damages from a jury.
Separately, the Willborns filed their own civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago Thursday against the Sabbias, Prudential Rubloff Properties and Lowe’s The Lowe Group. A Justice case could be consolidated with the Willborn’s suit in federal court.
In January, the Willborns sought to buy the Sabbia’s 8,000-square-foot home. According to the HUD complaint, the two parties verbally agreed on a $1.7 million purchase price. However, the Sabbias never signed the purchase contract. They told the Willborn’s real estate agent that they’d decided to take the home off the market, despite it being listed for sale for almost two years.
“By refusing to sign the sales contract,” the Sabbias “committed unlawful discrimination” by refusing to sell the home to the Willborns “after the making of a bona fide offer because of their race, African-American,” HUD said in its complaint.
According to the HUD complaint, Lowe told the Willborns’ agent during negotiations that his sellers had researched the Willborns. The complaint noted that Internet searches of George Willborn produced numerous images of him.
Edward Feldman, an attorney for Lowe, said Lowe strongly urged the Sabbias to complete their transaction with the Willborns. “[Lowe] did not discriminate,” Feldman said in an e-mail. “He did not knowingly facilitate discrimination. He will defend this case and is confident that at the end he will have been found to have acted appropriately.”
Calls made to the Sabbias were not returned. Prudential Rubloff referred all questions to its attorney, who was not immediately available.
Willie Gary, an attorney for the Willborns, said he will seek $100 million or more in compensatory and punitive damages. “They broke the law,” he said. “It was premeditated. We don’t need an apology. We need it to stop and the only way to do it is hit people in the pocketbook.”
The home in the 3300 block of South Lowe, which was still listed for sale this month for $1.799 million, has since been taken down from the local multiple listing service’s database of homes for sale.
George Willborn said his family has put their house-hunting on hold.