The Counsellor's Corner
I know there are people out there who dislike attorneys and sometimes that feeling is well founded, however there are times when things go a little too far. The victims in this matter are Tim and Kelly Liebaert who decided to become first-time homeowners in the City of Bakersfield. Tim is 32 and Kelly is 23, and they are happily married with two young children. They found what they thought was their dream home, a five-bedroom beauty about a block from their elementary school of the future. In February they put $3,000 down to hold the 2400-square-foot house and were told they had a deal.
Then it happened. The Liebaerts had their check returned to them with the word "Void" written on it along with a note indicating that the builders, the Burlington Homes Fairway Oaks Subdivision, will not sell homes to lawyers. The Liebaerts' case is now in litigation. They claim that their civil rights are being violated due to this discrimination. The attorney for the homebuilder acknowledges that not selling to attorneys reduces the potential number of buyers, however he claims they are willing to accept that fact "in order to reduce the frequency of threatened and actual litigation. The resulting reduced costs, in legal fees and resolution costs, enables our client to continue to offer its homes at more attractive prices."
Most observers feel the Liebaerts will prevail. Mrs. Liebaert could theoretically be married to a murderer on death row, one of the Menendez Brothers, or even O.J. (Oh, wait a minute, he's not in prison) and she could still buy the house. Because she is married to a lawyer she has not been permitted to do so.
The legal question may come down to the construction of what is known as the Unruh Civil Rights Act which says that discrimination cannot take place against people based on their disability, national origin, ancestry, or religion. The question will be whether or not this extends also to one's job.
What do you think? Throwing "the law" aside for a moment, this does not appear to be equitable. Should one's employment be a protected class for discrimination purposes? What if a seller doesn't like doctors because a family member died on the operating table and therefore won't sell to one? Or, if your new roof keeps leaking and that leads you to despise all roofers and you won't sell to a roofer. What if you think acupuncturists are scam artists and you therefore don't want to sell to them. Or if your disdain for politics leads you to not want to sell to a councilman. I think that a dangerous precedent would be set if the Liebaerts lose. While lawyers do tend to litigate or threaten litigation more than most as they are not inconvenienced by having to go out and hire a lawyer, this doesn't justify discrimination. While I can see the other side, I think the Liebaerts are getting a very raw deal.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.