Jurors in Union County have rejected a suit lodged by the state Division on Civil Rights claiming that a landlord engaged in anti-Muslim bias in denying a renter’s application.
Following a four-day trial, the jury acquitted William Greda on four counts of violating the Law Against Discrimination based on his alleged refusal to rent to an applicant who was wearing a khimar, which is a Muslim head scarf.
The Aug. 24 verdict came after Superior Court Judge Alan Lesnewich barred the jury from viewing footage from News 12 New Jersey that the state sought to admit into evidence. The footage showed Greda accusing the applicant, Fatima Farghaly, of being involved with ISIS and saying that she and the state were attempting to extort money from him.
The jury, however, did see a brief cellphone video made by Farghaly, in which she asks if he won’t rent to her because she’s a Muslim. Greda is seen answering her, “you don’t ask me nothing. Would you go?”
Greda was charged with violating the LAD by refusing to rent an apartment at his 17-unit building in Elizabeth to Farghaly based in whole or in part on her religion by inquiring about it in connection with the rental of real property, and by making discriminatory statements based on religion and gender.
The suit also accused Greda of violating the state Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act by transferring ownership of the 17-unit apartment building to a limited liability company he controls for $1 in April 2016, after he learned of the division’s legal action. The building, which was held in the names of Greda and his wife, was previously listed for sale for $2 million but is not now on the market, the state said.
The fraudulent-transfer count was severed from the LAD charges and was not heard by Lesnewich.
Farghaly complained to the Division on Civil Rights after Greda declined to rent to her in 2016. The state subsequently sent a female investigator wearing a Muslim head scarf to ask Greda about renting an apartment. Greda showed her a basement apartment but told her it was “not good for you” because, as a woman, she would have difficulty moving her belongings in case the apartment became flooded, the suit claimed.
Later the same day, the state sent another female investigator, this one not wearing a head scarf or presenting herself as a Muslim, the state said. This time, Greda made no mention of flooding or the apartment’s suitability for a female tenant, the state said in its complaint.
Deputy Attorney General Megan Harris represented the state.
After the jury dismissed all four LAD counts against Greda, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, Lee Moore, said, “We respectfully disagree with the jury’s verdict and are reviewing our legal options.”
Greda’s attorney, Vincent Sanzone, said the judge’s decision to bar jurors from viewing the News 12 footage was correct because the station did not make available an unedited version of its interview with the defendant, which he said ran 30 minutes. The televised version of the News 12 report was unfair and “took things out of context,” said Sanzone, of Elizabeth.
Sanzone said the jury found his client credible because Farghaly’s story was inconsistent with that of a male co-worker who accompanied her on the visit to Greda’s apartment building. Sanzone also said his client, who came to the U.S. from Poland in 1971, has difficulty expressing himself in English.