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Interracial Couple Suing Michigan Agents For Alleged Discrimination

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A white Michigan Realtor fired last year for a racially insensitive social media post is now in the crosshairs of a new lawsuit accusing him and another agent of violating the Fair Housing Act.

In a Jan. 15 complaint, Ohio couple Verdell and Julie Franklin allege that Rick Beaudin, an agent for KW Realty Livingston, and Mary Kay Ikens, an agent for RE/MAX Platinum, discriminated against them on the basis of race and violated their civil and property rights when they attempted to make on offer on a home on Michigan’s Zukey Lake. The suit names both agents and both brokerages as defendants.

Verdell Franklin is Black and the Chief Financial Officer of the Toledo Fire Department in Toledo, Ohio. Julie Franklin is white and is a certified registered nurse anesthetist. They have been married 30 years and have two adult sons.

Rick Beaudin

Beaudin was fired by RE/MAX Platinum in June after, in response to a protest planned in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, he posted to a local Pinckney, Michigan, group Facebook page “Can’t we all just promote in Pinckney that All Lives Matter?” BLM supporters say the phrase All Lives Matter ignores the lived experiences of Black people who are disproportionately impacted by police brutality and who feel their lives are not treated as if they matter.

RE/MAX Platinum owner Joe DeKroub told WHMI at the time that his real estate company “cannot be perceived as having bias in any manner or that we don’t fully support fair housing.” The termination occurred before the National Association of Realtors passed controversial changes to its professional standards in November to crack down on racist and discriminatory speech and behavior.

Beaudin later affiliated with KW Realty Livingston. On September 3, 2020, he listed a home for $350,000 on Zukey Lake, a place the Franklins had been visiting for about a decade to spend time with close friends who are white and own a house on the lake. According to the complaint, there has never been an African American homeowner on Zukey Lake and homes rarely come up for sale there, less than once a year.

The complaint said the Franklins had plans to buy a home on the lake, so when the Franklins’ friends saw Beaudin’s listing on Facebook, they shared it with the Franklins. The complaint said that on Sep. 4, Julie Franklin contacted the number in the listing to ask for a showing and received a call back from Ikens, who set up a showing that day at 2 p.m.

In a statement to Inman, Beaudin said that it was not possible for the number on his listing to reach Ikens because “we work at different companies.” If that’s the case, it’s unclear at this point how Franklin and Ikens initially connected.

According to the complaint, even though the couple believe they were the first to view the property, Ikens showed no interest in the Franklins as potential buyers and did not inquire about their level of interest in purchasing or their qualifications to buy a second home.

At about 2:30 p.m., toward the end of the showing during which the Franklins’ friends were also present, the Franklins told Ikens they wanted to make an offer on the home immediately, to which Ikens allegedly responded “in an awkward way” and said she had to go show a home to a friend nearby.

Mary Kay Ikens

Ikens later returned, saying she had spoken to Beaudin whom she allegedly referred to as her “boss,” which Beaudin also said was “not possible” because they work at different companies.

While talking with Ikens, the Franklins prepared and signed a standard purchase agreement with $300,000 as the offer, telling Ikens that it was their “starting” offer and they were prepared to pay more. Then, Ikens allegedly told them that unless they were prepared to offer the asking price of $350,000 in cash and buy the home “as is” without an inspection, their offer would be ignored by the sellers, which the complaint said was “false” and not included in the listing description.

“Based on the false information Ikens provided to the Franklins which was intended to and did dissuade them from making an offer on the home because of their race, the Franklins did not consummate their offer because they believed that their offer would be rejected and their good faith efforts to purchase the home would be futile,” the complaint said.

“Ikens and Beaudin coordinated their efforts to prevent the Franklins purchasing the 9934 Zukey Drive property because of their race.”

On Sep. 10, the listing went pending and on Oct. 28, the property was listed as sold for $300,000. It sold to a white man who paid with a down payment and a mortgage of $225,000 and was allowed to inspect the property before purchasing it, the complaint said.

“When the Franklins were dissuaded from purchasing the Zukey Lake home and later learned that it had been purchased by a white man under sale terms that they had conveyed to Defendants they were willing and able to meet, they were heart broken and outraged that they had been victims of blatant race discrimination,” the complaint said.

“As a result of Defendants’ discriminatory actions in denying the Franklins the fair and equal opportunity to purchase the Zukey Lake house because of their race, the Franklins have suffered pain, humiliation, degradation, emotional distress, outrage, and the profound sadness of losing the opportunity to peacefully enjoy the company of family and friends at a lake house they had long hoped to purchase because of their race.”

The complaint noted that Beaudin “has a history of engaging in racially inappropriate behavior” and that KW Realty Livingston, RE/MAX Platinum and Ikens were aware of his “propensity for race bias.”

In an emailed statement, Beaudin told Inman he was not the Franklins’ agent. “I’ve never met, spoke to, or had any communication with them ever,” he said. “I never received an offer from the Franklins via their agent. I represented the sellers — they were presented any offers received. I’m a Realtor, we live by the code of ethics. Discrimination has no place in real estate, especially here in Livingston County.”

Beaudin added, “The eventual buyer put in a full price offer — it was negotiated down after inspection. Lastly, how would I know who another agent was showing my listing to? Basically, how can I be sued if I didn’t deal with them or get an offer through their agent?”

The lawsuit alleges discrimination on the basis of race in violation of the Fair Housing Act, violation of the property rights of citizens on the basis of race, conspiracy to violate another individual’s civil rights and discrimination in real estate transactions in violation of Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

“We firmly deny the accusations made by Mr. and Mrs. Franklin,” Jennie Steudle, RE/MAX Platinum’s general manager, told Inman in an emailed statement. “At this time, we have not been served a lawsuit, but should that happen, we are confident that any allegations will be found to be without merit and we shall be fully vindicated.”

The complaint seeks actual damages, punitive damages and a court order requiring Ikens and Beaudin to surrender their real estate licenses, among other requests.

Ikens and KW Realty Livingston did not respond to Inman’s emailed requests for comment.

Read the complaint:

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from RE/MAX Platinum.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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