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NY AG fines three Long Island brokerages for racial discrimination

Keller Williams Greater Nassau, Keller Williams Realty Elite and Laffey Real Estate penalized three years after Newsday exposé

After being accused of racial discrimination, three Long Island brokerages are to pay $115,000 in a settlement with New York State.

According to an announcement from the New York State Attorney General’s office released on Tuesday, Keller Williams Greater Nassau, Keller Williams Realty Elite, and Laffey Real Estate will pay the penalty as part of a settlement. The three brokerages were implicated for racial discrimination in a Newsday investigation in 2019. The New York Office of the Attorney General opened an investigation into these brokerages and several others after the Newsday exposé.

“Efforts to discriminate against any New Yorker’s fair access to housing cannot, and will not, be tolerated,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “These investigations have uncovered a pervasive culture of allowing unlawful discrimination and violations of every New Yorker’s right to fair housing. These settlements should send a clear message: if you discriminate and deny New Yorkers their basic right to housing, we will take action.”

According to the release, the penalties will fund fair housing training for agents and the enforcement of fair housing laws in Suffolk and Nassau Counties on Long Island. Laffey will pay $30,000 to the state and $35,000 to Suffolk County to conduct unannounced fair housing training of any Laffey agent at any Laffey Branch. Both Keller Williams franchises are required to pay $25,000 to Suffolk County and spend $25,000 on fair housing training for its agents, according to the attorney general’s office.

“Real estate professionals in New York state have an obligation to provide fair and equitable services to all,” Robert J. Rodriguez, New York’s Secretary of State, said in a statement. “Housing discrimination is illegal, and the Department will not tolerate New Yorker’s rights being violated. This comprehensive fair housing settlement demonstrates that New York’s leadership is making sure every New Yorker has equal access to housing. The penalties and agreements with these real estate companies educate their agents about housing laws to ensure New Yorkers are protected.” 

Discrimination uncovered by Newsday

The discriminatory practices were discovered in a 2019 Newsday investigation. The publication found that “numerous” Long Island real estate agents tried to steer white property buyers away from minority neighborhoods, and directed minorities into areas with fewer white residents.

As part of the investigation, actors went into real estate offices posing as prospective homebuyers. Diane Leyden, a manager at Laffey Real Estate in Great Neck, was captured on a hidden camera steering a actor posing as a Hispanic homebuyer away from whiter areas, and lecturing him on viewing properties outside of his budget, without any insight into his finances. On the other hand, in Leyden’s interactions with a white actor, she was seen not offering any of the same warnings on budgeting, and guiding the buyer towards whiter neighborhoods.

“Do you want your kids to be in school with kids that they relate to?” she asked the white actor, according to the attorney general’s investigation.

Another Laffey broker, Nancy Anderson, asked a Black actor for proof that he had been pre-approved for a mortgage before agreeing to show him any properties, a step she did not make any white actors take.

Over at the Keller William franchises, the investigation stated that agent Le-Ann Vicquery of steering a Black homebuyer into the minority neighborhood of Brentwood, while warning a white tester to research gang violence in the neighborhood.

As a result of the Newsday investigation, Vicquery and 22 other agents were sued by the New York Department of State. After initially winning her case, Vicquery ended up having her real estate license suspended for 30 days after the state won an appeal.

The majority of the brokers named in the investigation have not admitted to any wrongdoing. When asked to appear at a New York State Senate hearing in December 2019, only one of the 68 agents asked agreed to appear. In addition, the Keller Williams branches have strongly denied that they ever steered anyone away from certain neighborhoods based on their race.

Keller Williams Greater Nassau, Keller Williams Realty Elite, and Laffey Real Estate had not returned requests for comment by the time of publication.