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Lawsuit claims that developer lied to discourage black homebuyers HARFORD COUNTY


A Harford County developer lied to prospective black homebuyers to keep them out of a new development in Bel Air, a federal racial discrimination lawsuit filed yesterday charges.

A sales agent for Stephen Homes Inc., the suit alleges, deliberately tried to keep blacks from buying at the Greenridge II development in Bel Air.

Jonathan Pumphrey, a black hospital administrator with a wife ,, and two children, wanted to move off a noisy Bel Air street and buy a new $170,000 home at Greenridge II in January, said Andrew D. Freeman, a Baltimore attorney representing Mr. Pumphrey. The attorney also represents another plaintiff, Clay Keith, a black "tester" for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a fair housing organization.

The suit, which does not specify damages, contends that sales agent Sheila Ort told Mr. Pumphrey the lot he wished to purchase had been sold. In March, the suit says, Ms. Ort told Mr. Keith that no lots were available.

Meanwhile, white testers sent by Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. were told that lots and homes were available, Mr. Freeman said.

Attempts to reach Stephen Homes Inc. and the Greenridge II sales office late yesterday were unsuccessful.

Since 1982, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed neighborhood groups to use testers and sue for discrimination, Baltimore Neighborhoods has filed or assisted in 44 lawsuits, Mr. Freeman said. The organization won or obtained favorable settlements of 38 of those cases, lost three and has three pending, he said.

After Baltimore Neighborhoods won a $250,000 settlement last fall in Northwest Baltimore, Mr. Freeman said, he figured developers would get the message.

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