Cavalieri-Conway experienced repair delays was because she steadfastly refused to permit any service people or Delores Underwood from entering her apartment when she was absent. (Am. Compl. at 24.) According to Cavalieri-Conway, the reason for her refusal was because she "quickly figured out what Delores was after, coercing a bribe with treat to the Plaintiff's belongings . . . ." (Am. Compl. at 24.) She admits that the repairs would then be rescheduled to accommodate her. (Am. Compl. at 24.) Finally, Cavalieri-Conway admits that she "always spoke highly of [Defendants'] effort in maintaining the building" (Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 8), and that "she had a high opinion of [Defendants] until she was rejected to renew her lease" (Am. Compl. at 13).
Cavalieri-Conway provides no smoking gun and no "bits and pieces" of proof that "together compose a convincing mosaic of discrimination . . . ." Troupe, 20 F.3d at 737. Rather, her allegations can be characterized as unsupported, rambling and bizarre. Thus, Cavalieri-Conway cannot survive summary judgment under the direct method.
b. Indirect Method
Nonetheless, Cavalieri-Conway may still survive summary judgment under the indirect method. Kormoczy, 53 F.3d 821, 823, 824 (7th Cir. 1995); Village of Bellwood v. Dwivedi, 895 F.2d 1521, 1531 (7th Cir. 1990) "The McDonnell Douglas test recognizes that direct proof of unlawful discrimination is rarely available." United States v. Badgett, 976 F.2d 1176, 1178 (8th Cir. 1992). In fact, several courts apply the McDonnell Douglas test in FHA cases without reviewing whether a plaintiff can survive summary judgment under the direct method. See Badgett, 976 F.2d at 1178 (stating that HUD has adopted the McDonnell Douglas test for evaluating actions under the FHA); see also Secretary of H.U.D. v. Blackwell, 908 F.2d 864, 870 (11th Cir. 1990) (stating that "the three part burden of proof test developed in McDonnell Douglas governs" discrimination cases under the FHA).
First, a plaintiff bears the initial burden of proving a prima facie case of housing discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. See generally McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973). If a plaintiff succeeds in establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, a presumption of illegality arises and the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for the challenged actions. Badgett, 976 F.2d at 1178. If the defendant satisfies this burden, the plaintiff has the opportunity to prove by a preponderance that the non-discriminatory reasons asserted by the defendant are merely pretext for discrimination. Id.
To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the FHA, Cavalieri-Conway must show that: 1) she is a member of a protected class; 2) Defendants knew it; 3) she was qualified to rent the apartment; and 4) Defendants refused to rent her an apartment despite her qualifications. Alexander v. Briar-Grace Apartments, 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8183, No. 87-9348, 1989 WL 81958, at *3 (N.D. Ill. July 12, 1989) (citing Hamilton v. Svatik, 779 F.2d 383, 387 (7th Cir. 1985)); Cf. Maki v. Laakko, 88 F.3d 361, 364 (6th Cir. 1996) (stating essentially the same elements but adding that the plaintiff must show "that the housing or rental property was available" after the plaintiff's rejection). Cavalieri-Conway has shown a prima facie case of discrimination. She is a member of a protected class and Defendants knew it. Moreover, though her income was dependent on public aid, Cavalieri-Conway has shown her ability to pay the rent. Finally, Cavalieri-Conway has shown that Defendants refused to renew her lease despite her qualifications.
The court now turns to whether Defendants can produce a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its refusal to renew Cavalieri-Conway's lease. According to Butterman, it was his decision not to renew the lease. (Defs. 12(M), Ex. A.) Butterman states that he did not renew Cavalieri-Conway's lease because of her bizarre and unsatisfiably demanding behavior, rather than because of any sexual bias. (Id.) Attached to Butterman's affidavit is a November 1995 letter from Cavalieri-Conway which Butterman considered the final straw in his landlord-tenant relationship with her. (Id., Ex. A1) Among other complaints, the letter states that the Underwoods arranged a bulletin board to send subliminal messages regarding Cavalieri-Conway,
that Delores Underwood's reply to one of Cavalieri-Conway's complaints was in "RED," and that Cavalieri-Conway's behavior was impaired by her necessity of "living on the run from pain caused by hostile managers." (Id.) It also includes the following passage which Butterman, who is Jewish, interpreted as anti-Semitic: "This is tantamount in saying 'no Jews can have Christian slaves. Only Christians can have Christian slaves. And we'll convert all Moslems to Christians, so there are no slaves that are not Christians, therefore Jews cannot own slaves.'" (Id.) By simply offering these legitimate reasons for the decision not to renew Cavalieri-Conway's lease, the court finds that Defendants have met their burden in the McDonnell Douglas framework.
See Kahn v. U.S. Sec. of Labor, 64 F.3d 271, 278 (7th Cir. 1995) (stating that "the burden is simply one of production").
Despite Butterman's proffered legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for his decision not to renew Cavalieri-Conway's lease, the court will not grant summary judgment if Cavalieri-Conway provides evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could infer that Butterman's proffered reason is false, and discrimination was his true motivation. Coco v. Elmwood Care, 128 F.3d 1177, 1179 (7th Cir. 1997); Sirvidas v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 60 F.3d 375, 377-78 (7th Cir. 1995). In other words, Cavalieri-Conway must produce evidence from which a rational fact finder could infer that Butterman lied about his reasons for not renewing her lease, and that the lie was a pretext for discrimination. Coco, 128 F.3d at 1179; Schultz v. Gen. Elect. Capital Corp., 37 F.3d 329, 333-34 (7th Cir. 1994). Cavalieri-Conway has failed to do so.
In challenging Butterman's reasons for not renewing her lease, Cavalieri-Conway argues that the comment "no reason" in her eviction letter (dated March 14, 1996) and Butterman's initial refusal to speak to her after not renewing her lease indicate pretext. (Am. Compl. at 10.) In addition, she asserts that Defendants wanted to get rid of her and "subjected [her] to a long chain of troubles so that she would fall into the cleverly laid trap set for her" that, presumably, would provide reasons for Butterman not to renew her lease. (Am. Compl. at 15.)
These arguments are not persuasive. First, the letter notifying Cavalieri-Conway of Butterman's intention not to renew her lease does not include the comment "no reason;" it simply serves to notify Cavalieri-Conway and is otherwise silent. Regardless, the silence as to any reason in the letter and by Butterman personally are insufficient to create an inference of pretext. See Kizer v. Children's Learning Ctr., 962 F.2d 608, 613 (7th Cir. 1992) (unfounded personal benefit, supposition and conjecture are legally insufficient to establish pretext). Moreover, like an employer in a Title VII case, a landlord under the FHA may terminate a tenant's lease "for any reason, good or bad, or for no reason at all, as long as the [landlord's] reason is not proscribed by a Congressional Statute." Kahn v. Sec. of Labor, 64 F.3d 271, 279 (7th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted); see also Wallace v. SMC Pneumatics, Inc., 103 F.3d 1394, 1399 (7th Cir. 1997); Cross v. Roadway Express, 51 F.3d 275 (Table), 1995 WL 135743, at *6 n.9 (7th Cir. 1995); Bruno v. City of Crown Point, 950 F.2d 355, 364 (7th Cir. 1991); compare Snyder v. Barry Realty, 953 F. Supp. 217, 221-23 (N.D. Ill. 1996) (discussing the determination of pretext in a disparate impact case). With respect to the "trap" that Defendants allegedly set, Cavalieri-Conway does not dispute that she had continuing difficulties with Defendants which were not related to her sex. Furthermore, Cavalieri-Conway does not deny that she entered a settlement agreement with Defendants in state court under which she was obligated to vacate the apartment. In sum, Cavalieri-Conway has not provided any evidence that would create an inference that Butterman's reasons for not renewing her lease were a pretext for discrimination. Therefore, her claim of sexual discrimination under the indirect method must also fail.
2. Sexual Harassment
In addition to sexual discrimination, Cavalieri-Conway accuses Defendants of sexual harassment under the FHA. See DiCenso v. Cisneros, 96 F.3d 1004, 1008 (7th Cir. 1996) (recognizing a cause of action for sexual harassment under the FHA); see also Krueger v. Cuomo, 115 F.3d 487, 491 (7th Cir. 1997) (same). In support of her claim, Cavalieri-Conway refers to nearly the same factual allegations as her sexual discrimination claim. Specifically, Cavalieri-Conway again:
1) refers to the comments allegedly made by Robert Underwood in which he threatened to call her a whore if she had sexual partners;