Bill Morris in Board Operations on March 21, 2013
In what still stands as one of the messiest — and costliest — discrimination cases in the city's history, Biondi (above) and his fellow board members at a 66-unit Midtown East co-op called Beekman Hill House were sued for racial discrimination by an interracial couple who were turned down for a sublet in 1995. The suit was brought by lawyers Gregory and Shannon Broome — he's black, she's white — and it was based on the fact that the co-op board had rejected the couple only after a face-to-face interview with Gregory Broome, during which a board member scribbled "black man" on a notepad.
Biondi today says he voted to reject the couple because he found Gregory Broome "arrogant" and possibly litigious. The judge in the case remarked that "arrogant" is a spruced-up contemporary synonym for "uppity," an old epithet frequently used to denigrate black people. The board's lawyers countered that "arrogant" can apply to any person, regardless of race, but the judge was not swayed.
A federal court ruled in 1997 the Beekman Hill House board was guilty of racial discrimination, and it awarded the Broomes $640,000 — including $410,000 in punitive damages that came directly from the pockets of Biondi and his fellow board members. Biondi, in turn, sued the co-op to recoup the money he had to pay. Again he lost.
Biondi, who now works as an insurance broker on Long Island, has developed a website that leaves little doubt over the lingering effects of that long-ago discrimination suit. The website opens with this declaration: "As a volunteer on a committee of his NYC co-op, Nick Biondi was victimized by circumstances and a system that changed his life forever."
Biondi (at right, in the early 2000s) says that he has paid $180,000 in punitive damages in the case (a 2002 Daily News article says $125,000) and an additional $70,000 in legal fees. The total cost of the case came to $1.69 million — $804,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, plus $886,000 in legal fees.
"It knocked me out," Biondi says. "I've been working all my life, and that was a lot of money."
He believes he was a victim of reverse discrimination because white people are not among the "protected classes" in anti-discrimination laws. "We knew we did nothing wrong," Biondi contends. "I didn't like being pushed around because of my race. The takeaway for me is that a person who's not in the protected classes is the one who's going to get discriminated against."
Differences Between the Cases
Lawyers familiar with the Biondi case and the current Dakota case are quick to point out that there are major differences between the two. For starters, in the latter case there is no smoking gun — no written notation by a Dakota board member that Fletcher is a "black man" — and his request to buy a second apartment was not weighed after the board realized he was black. The Dakota board has known for 20 years that Fletcher is black.
"In the Biondi case there was evidence of discrimination," says Gallet Dreyer & Berkey attorney Marc Luxemburg, president of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums (CNYC). "Someone wrote that note that said ‘black man' and there were board discussions about Gregory Broome's race. In 20 years at the Dakota, Fletcher never pointed to any incident where anyone had done something that was racist. Fletcher's argument is completely circumstantial."
Photo (top) by Jennifer Wu
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