A Look Back at the Discrimination Suit Dogging Donald Trump

Trump and his father were sued by the Justice Department in 1973.

ByABC News
August 26, 2016, 4:09 PM

— -- As Donald Trump makes repeated appeals to black voters in his bid for the White House, one lawsuit has become fodder for Hillary Clinton’s attacks against him.

Back in 1973, five years after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Trump was deeply involved in the family’s New York City real estate business. And that’s when the Justice Department filed a housing discrimination suit against Donald Trump, father Fred and their real estate management corporation.

Clinton mentioned the suit in her speech in Reno, Nevada, Thursday, calling it one of many examples of Trump’s true feelings on race.

The Lawsuit’s Claims

The Department of Justice filed the civil suit against the Trump management corporation for “discriminating against black persons in the operation of their buildings,” according to the DOJ's news release on the date of the filing, Oct. 15, 1973.

At the time, the buildings in questioned included 14,000 units throughout greater New York City.

The suit was filed against Trump Management Inc., then-board chairman and principal stockholder Fred Trump and his son, the company’s then-president, Donald Trump.

“The suit said the defendants have violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by refusing to rent and negotiate rentals with blacks, requiring different rental terms and conditions because of race, and misrepresenting that apartments are not available,” according to the release.

The lead up to the suit involved a government investigation where “testers” of different races went undercover and were allegedly treated differently and told opposite answers about what apartments were available for rent, according to a Washington Post report.

Federal investigators found that Trump employees marked black applicant’s applications with a “C” for “colored” and steered black and Puerto Rican renters to buildings with fewer white tenants, according to court filings by the government, The Washington Post reported.

How Donald Trump Responded to the Suit

PHOTO: Donald Trump and Fred Trump are pictured during Donald Trump Celebrates His Book "The Art of The Deal" at Trump Towers Atrium in New York City.
Donald Trump and Fred Trump are pictured during Donald Trump Celebrates His Book "The Art of The Deal" at Trump Towers Atrium in New York City.

Donald Trump held a news conference after the suit was announced where he denied any wrongdoing and suggested a possible motive for the Justice Department’s actions.

“I have never, nor has anyone in our organization ever, to the best of my knowledge, discriminated or shown bias in renting our apartments,” Donald Trump said at a December 1973 news conference, according to a New York Times article from that day.

Trump “accused the Justice Department of singling out his corporation because it was a large one and because the Government was trying to force it to rent to welfare recipients,” the newspaper reported.

Reaching an Agreement “With Prejudice” but Without Claims of Guilt

In spite of Trump’s effort in 1974 to have the suit dismissed, his legal team reached an agreement with the government in June 1975. The suit was described in the agreement as a situation where the Trumps “have failed and neglected to exercise their affirmative and nondelegable duty under the Fair Housing Act… with the result that equal housing opportunity has been denied to substantial numbers of persons.”

The Trumps “vigorously deny said allegations,” the court document states.

The agreement, which laid out the specific terms that the Trumps would have to abide by moving forward, noted that it was “in no way an admission by it of a violation of the prohibition against discrimination.”

The complaint against Fred Trump and Donald Trump was “dismissed against them in their personal capacity, with prejudice.”

But the agreement includes some specific terms that had to be met by the Trumps, including the addition of the words “Equal Housing Opportunity” and the fair housing logo on all of their advertising. Beyond that, the agreement included a page-long description of how they were ordered to insert a monthly ad “at least 3 inches in length” in “a newspaper of general circulation” showing available apartments.

According to an article in The New York Times in June 1975, the day after the agreement was reached, Donald Trump said that the agreement was to their “full satisfaction” because it didn’t have “any requirement that would compel the Trump organization to accept persons on welfare as tenants unless as qualified as any other tenant.”

Part of a Pattern?

In spite of Trump’s recent attempts to recast himself as an appealing candidate for African-American voters, critics have cited the discrimination suit as a negative mark on his history.

Wayne Barrett, who has written two books about Trump and covered the discrimination suit for The Village Voice at the time it was unfolding, said the case shows Trump’s psyche when it comes to race.

“His position publicly, and he did talk about this in the media, was, ‘Oh no, we were just trying to keep welfare recipients out of our buildings.’ Well, as a matter of fact, welfare recipients couldn’t afford to live in your buildings,” Barrett told ABC News.

“Equating black people and welfare recipients is the way his mind works,” he said.

Barrett points to this case as an early example of Trump’s public encounters with race.

“If it stood there alone, then it would be a valid argument to say, ‘It was a youthful mistake 40 years ago when I was guided by my father. But it comes in a continuum,’” he added.

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