Housing discrimination case rejected


The county Office of Human Rights has rejected a Catonsville woman's allegations that the managers of a Columbia condominium denied her use of her home by using lawn care and other chemicals to which she is allergic.

The decision, in which the county agency ruled there was not enough evidence to pursue a housing discrimination case, was the second defeat Ivy Lurie Bormel has sustained in her efforts to get a discrimination ruling based on her disability, known medically as multiple chemical sensitivity.

In May, U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin dismissed a federal disability-related housing discrimination complaint Ms. Bormel and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development filed against the Deering Woods Condominium in Columbia. Ms. Bormel co-owns a unit at the complex in the 5700 block of Harpers Farm Road. She has moved to Catonsville.

Ms. Bormel, a certified respiratory therapist, cannot work because of her disability.

She said she plans to appeal the county's decision.

She has until July 25 to file an appeal with the county Human Rights Commission, which is separate from the county human rights office. The commission would decide whether there was enough evidence to warrant a public hearing.

Ms. Bormel's complaint was the first filed in the county based on multiple chemical sensitivity, or MCS. The condition has generated much controversy in the medical community. It is being debated as the possible cause of illnesses of many Persian Gulf war veterans. Some medical authorities believe that common chemicals in the environment can upset the body's immune system.

Those who suffer from the condition have mild to strong allergic reactions to chemicals used in paint, furniture, lawn care products and other materials, experts said.

According to the county's 14-page decision, Ms. Bormel alleged in her May 11, 1993, complaint that the managers of Deering Woods did not adequately tell her about pesticide, herbicide and other chemicals used on the grounds in the spring of 1993, despite their pledge to give her 72 hours' notice before chemicals were used.

She also alleged that Deering Woods discriminated against her by refusing to switch to nontoxic lawn care and pest control after she provided physician reports saying the chemicals and pesticides used made her ill.

Ms. Bormel also alleged that unless management made accommodations, she would have to move out or her condition would worsen.

Investigators determined that she had to move out of her home for days at a time to avoid becoming ill.

In its investigation, the county verified that Ms. Bormel suffers from MCS, that she told management about her condition and asked that they notify her before using chemicals on the grounds.

Dr. Grace Ziem, a Baltimore physician specializing in occupational and environmental medicine, is treating Ms. Bormel. She told investigators that Ms. Bormel's allergic reactions include fatigue, diarrhea, mouth sores, and seizures. Two other physicians verified that Ms. Bormel has MCS, documents show.

However, the investigation determined that the condominium management made reasonable attempts, except in one instance, to notify Ms. Bormel before chemicals were used on the grounds.

The investigation also found that the condominium association was looking into switching to organic or other alternative lawn care methods.

James E. Henson, administrator of the Office of Human Rights, said he is barred by law from commenting on cases which are found to lack sufficient evidence to merit a public hearing.

The Deering Woods Condominium Association is seeking a Circuit Court order banning Ms. Bormel from interfering with its lawn and grounds maintenance contractors. The association also wants Ms. Bormel to pay attorney fees spent on defending the HUD action.

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