Last week The Root ran a Buzz item referring to a lawsuit filed by investor Alphonse "Buddy" Fletcher Jr. against his building co-op. In the suit, Mr. Fletcher alleged that his co-op board discriminated against him by refusing to sell him an apartment adjoining his own. He said in his complaint that members of the board routinely used racist and derogatory language in referring to black and Hispanic applicants to the building, where apartments sell for as much as $20 million. The list of famous tenants in the landmark building along Central Park has included John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Roberta Flack, Lauren Bacall and Judy Garland.
Fletcher's attorney George Sard said that the article, based on a story in the New York Times, unfairly characterized Fletcher. Here is the text of his e-mail:
Your conclusion that this is a case of sour grapes is totally unwarranted as even a cursory review of the complaint (see attached) makes abundantly clear. Mr. Fletcher reluctantly filed this lawsuit after exhausting all other avenues to resolve this matter since the Board's improper rejection of his all-cash purchase application last April. As the owner of a successful private investment firm who has substantial net worth and who has resided in the Dakota for nearly 20 years and always met his financial obligations to the co-op, there can be no legitimate question regarding Mr. Fletcher's ability to pay for the apartment and associated maintenance costs. Your article erroneously suggested that Mr. Fletcher didn't complain and even condoned the Board's racism while he was President of the Board. The truth is he put a stop to the Board's discrimination against a black woman resident and a Jewish applicant — and the Board retaliated against him by denying his application on the false pretext of financial issues. It was also highly misleading to note that "Fletcher's mother sits on the current board" without making clear that she was excluded from the Board's consideration of this application.
You are certainly entitled to your opinion but, in the interest of fairness, I encourage you to post the lawsuit so your readers can judge for themselves whether this is a case of "sour grapes."
In addition, Sard pointed to several key paragraphs in the complaint to support Fletcher's contention:
31. In early 2007, Fletcher again witnessed discrimination by certain Board members during discussions regarding a Jewish couple's application to purchase a unit in the Dakota. Although the couple was financially well-qualified to make the purchase, the Board quickly rejected the couple, without even an interview, after one Board member had described them as members of the "Jewish mafia." Fletcher and one other Board member had voted to grant the family an interview, but they were outvoted.
32. In May of 2007, Fletcher was elected Board President after an internal power struggle on the Board. Just prior to his election, several Board members (including defendant Rydzewski) were accused of having conflicts of interest that were previously unknown to the rest of the Board, and most other Board members took sides in the dispute. Although Fletcher had been critical of the substantive conflicts, he had remained neutral with respect to personality conflicts. As a result, Fletcher became one of the few candidates who was still acceptable to a majority of Board members, and they elected him Board President.
33. When Fletcher became Board President, he tried (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to put an end to the discriminatory behavior of certain Board members. For example, in advance of the September 12, 2007 Board meeting, Fletcher conveyed his view to defendant Nitze that the "Jewish mafia" comments and the process and general tenor of the discussion surrounding the Jewish applicants' ethnicity and religion were not appropriate. Although defendant Nitze tried to persuade Fletcher not to raise the issue again, Fletcher urged the Board to reconsider the couple's application "on the record" and the Board voted to grant the couple an interview. Following that interview, the Board changed its earlier position and approved the couple's application.
34. The issue of the African-American tenant's repeated efforts to gain approval for her bathtub renovation resurfaced as well during Fletcher's tenure as Board President. During a Board meeting on or about March 13, 2008, Fletcher observed defendant Rydzewski and the Corporation's counsel, Eric Balber, whispering and snickering with each other. When Fletcher asked them what they were discussing, Rydzewski explained, with obvious amusement in his voice, that they had been speculating about how many times that shareholder would have to "apply to fix her bathroom." Fletcher made it clear to them and to the rest of the Board that such jokes at that shareholder's expense were not appropriate and that the shareholder understandably needed to have the issue resolved. Shortly after Fletcher challenged those Board members' conduct, and years of rejecting the shareholder's requests, the Board finally voted to allow the proposed renovation.
35. Despite Fletcher's efforts to stop discriminatory practices during his tenure as President, the hostility of certain Board members toward non-white shareholders and Fletcher in particular persisted both during and after his term as Board President ended in May 2009.
You can find the text of the entire complaint here (pdf).