By Kim Palmer
(Reuters) - A Cincinnati landlord found to have violated state anti-discrimination laws after she hung a "white only" sign outside her swimming pool lost an appeal with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission on Thursday.
The ruling clears the way for the case to be referred to the state attorney general's office for possible state civil charges and the possibility of being forced to pay compensatory and punitive damages.
The commission ruled the sign, which read "Public Swimming Pool, White Only," violated state housing discrimination laws, and dismissed landlord Jamie Hein's claim that it was simply a decorative antique.
The commission's ruling followed a complaint by Michael Gunn, a former tenant who brought his 10-year-old biracial daughter to a Memorial Day weekend pool party on Hein's property attended by about 20 other guests.
Gunn said Hein later questioned him about the "chemicals" his daughter used in her hair and blamed the girl, the only non-Caucasian at the party, for making the pool water "cloudy."
Gunn told the commission that about a week later he saw the "white only" sign on the gate leading to the pool. He said he and his fiancé decided to move away immediately so "as not to expose my daughter to the sign and humiliation."
As part of the commission's investigation, Gunn produced copies of texts he said Hein had sent to his fiancé shortly after the family moved out, blaming "grease" in his daughter's hair for the cloudy condition of the pool.
After an investigation into the allegations and "informal efforts to resolve the case," the Civil Rights Commission ruled in September that Hein had violated the law.
Hein requested an appeal after the initial findings but neither she nor her attorney attended the hearing on Thursday.
(Editing by James Kelleher and Cynthia Johnston)