Czech trial hears recording of real estate broker rejecting Romani customer
A court in Litoměřice began to review an alleged case of discrimination this past Wednesday against a Romani woman, Lenka Balogová. The plaintiff is seeking a public apology from real estate broker Eliška Nosková and CZK 100 000 (EUR 3 670) in compensation because Nosková's brokerage refused to discuss leasing an apartment to Balogová because of her ethnicity.
The audio recording evidence of the telephone conversation between Balogová and a staffer at the brokerage was played in court on 24 June. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 10 August.
In the recording, the staffer asks Balogová whether she is Romani. When she says yes, the broker tells her that the owner of the apartment she is interested in does not want to lease it to anyone Romani.
Presiding Judge Jiří Šlapal asked the plaintiff to provide more documentation about the circumstances under which the recording was made. Nosková told the court that she does not remember tasking that particular staffer with handling the conversation.
Since Nosková is the broker who was advertising the apartment, the lawsuit was filed against her. The judge warned that it will first be necessary to prove the facts of the case.
"After that we can venture into making complex legal assessments," he said. After she testifed, the broker told the Czech News Agency: "Anything can happen, certainly we will not celebrate too early, but I have a good feeling about it."
Balogová's legal representative made arguments referring to EU legislation and its impact on property rights, according to which an owner is not permitted to make decisions about property that violate anti-discrimination law. "There is simply no doubt that this kind of direct discrimination is absolutely prohibited, this so-called reasonable justification for it is simply not allowed," he told the court.
Nosková's legal representative, however, told the court that the broker did not commit discrimination. He also pointed out that the audio recording in question may have been illegally obtained.
The defense disagreed with the recording being used as evidence during the trial and warned that it was low quality. The judge, however, permitted it to be entered as evidence, referring to the recently-amended civil code on this issue.
Both sides of the dispute also referenced the ambiguous nature of several laws in their arguments yesterday. The controversy dates back to 2014, when the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (the ombud), on the basis of several complaints filed with it, decided to test real estate offices and their willingness to broker the lease of apartments to Romani tenants.
The ombud collaborated with the Counseling Center for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights, which reviewed the approach taken by the real estate offices toward Romani tenants with the ombud as per their agreement. Then-ombud Pavel Varvařovský wanted to verify the cases of real estate brokers refusing to broker the lease of housing to Romani people with the justification that the owner of the property did not want them.
"In our opinion, the ombud is not permitted to spark public provocations," the defense said yesterday. The plaintiff responded by saying that such test cases are a normal part of the surveys the ombud performs.
"Situational testing, which has been incorrectly labeled a provocation, is a serious process that is customarily used to discover evidence of discriminatory behavior that has previously been determined to exist when such proof of discrimination cannot be obtained in any other way. This decidedly was not an intentionally-provoked situation that would otherwise never have happened," the current Czech ombud, Anna Šabatová, said previously about the case.
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