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White Students ‘Unreasonable’ In Rejecting Black Rommate

April 10, 1985

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) _ Two white University of Iowa students were unreasonable when they refused to let a black woman share their apartment solely because of her race, a magistrate ruled.

The black woman was to be a replacement tenant found by a third white woman who was moving. The students who rejected the black woman sued their former roommate, claiming she did not provide a suitable new tenant to assume her part of the rent.

But Johnson County Magistrate Stephan Gerard ruled Tuesday that the former roommate, Kathryn L. Miller of Kalona, found an acceptable replacement in the black woman and that the two white women were not entitled to $273 in rent and expenses as well as $100 in damages.

″I feel good about (the ruling),″ Ms. Miller said Wednesday. ″I just didn’t think they had the right to object because she was black.″

Her two former roommates, Donna Wendel of Dayton and Whitney Harn of West Des Moines, declined to comment. The black woman was not identified in court documents and could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Wendel and Ms. Harn filed a small claims suit against Ms. Miller, alleging she had failed to find a suitable replacement after moving from their apartment last October before the lease expired.

Ms. Miller found the black woman through a newspaper advertisment. Ms. Wendel knew the replacement and didn’t object to her, court documents said.

But Ms. Harn said she refused to live with a black person, and Ms. Wendel agreed to support her objection, court records said.

″I was very upset about it because she wouldn’t even meet with her,″ Ms. Miller said of Ms. Harn. Court records said the black woman would have shared a room with Ms. Wendel, while Ms. Harn would have had a separate room.

Ms. Miller was unable to locate any other potential roommates and moved.

″The court believes that in order to determine a replacement roommate unacceptable,″ Gerard ruled, ″there must be specific and articulable reasons to support a refusal to accept a proposed roommate.

″For example, female roommates could reject a proposed male roommate,″ Gerard said. ″Nonsmoking roommates could reject a proposed roommate who smoked.

″In this case, (Ms.) Harn refused to accept the proposed roommate solely because of her race,″ Gerard ruled. ″No other articulable reason was given.″

The judge said that considering Ms. Wendel had agreed to share her room with the new tenant, ″Harn’s rejection without even meeting the proposed roommate becomes all the more unreasonable.″

Court documents said Ms. Harn testified that she ″has black friends but feels they live differently,″ and that her father, who pays the rent, ″wouldn’t have wanted her to live with a black.″

The judge said the two white women did not violate any laws, but had no grounds to sue Ms. Miller.

04-10-85 1519EST

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