Landlord who refused to lease to Muslims must pay $675,000 fine

DENVER, Colorado -- Last year, a Denver landlord was recorded telling one of her tenants to find an "American person...good like you and me" to sublease her property instead of a Muslim father and son.

Now, she must pay the men $675,000 under a settlement.

KDVR reports the three men involved sued last year, generating local news coverage and online pleas to boycott the woman's business.

A settlement was reached in April. Rashad Khan, 36 said it was a relief after more than a year of reliving his first experience of someone refusing to work with him and his father, Zuned, because of their faith and race.

"My dad and I just wanted to know that there's justice, that she can't do this," said Khan.

Craig Caldwell had been renting the building since 2016, but decided to close his fried chicken restaurant there in late 2017. Caldwell had no choice but to continue paying rent for the five-year lease until he could find someone to sublease it.

The Khans were hoping to open a second Indian restaurant, and thought Caldwell's offer was perfect for them.

Caldwell was sold after checking their financial records, trying the family recipes, and seeing the father and son working the counter at their business.

Weeks went by without approval of the sublease agreement by the building's owner, Katina Gatchis. Caldwell was shocked when the woman's son blamed the Khans' Islamic faith.

"I didn't believe it, and I didn't think anybody would believe me," said Caldwell, 71.

Caldwell used a voice recording app on his cellphone during his next conversation with Gatchis. In Colorado, it's legal to secretly record a conversation if at least one participant consents.

Gatchis can be heard exclaiming, "American person, I need, good like you and me."

Caldwell had the same conversation with her a few days later, hoping Gatchis would change her mind.

In the recording of the second conversation, Gatchis can be heard saying, ""They bring all the Muslims from the Middle East, and then I have a problem around here, bam boom, bam boom."

Although attorneys for Gatchis did not comment to KDVR on the recording and settlement, in a court document filed in March they said Gatchis admitted to making the statements "and that the recordings are accurate."

Gatchis acknowledged in the document that she "unlawfully discriminated" against the Khans' company. However, she did say Caldwell could not sublease to them without her approval under the terms of his original lease.

Caldwell was referred to Denver Attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai, whose firm often handles discrimination claims and other civil rights cases. Mohamedbhai said proving discrimination is often difficult and credited Caldwell for speaking up.

"Businesses in Colorado and across the country should know that these laws are on the books, they are highly enforceable, and that if they will discriminate, people will stand up against them and tell them it is wrong," Mohamedbhai said.

Khan said his father did not seem surprised by Gatchis' remarks, but he himself was shocked. "Just to look at my name and assume everything in my life, everything that I am," he said. "I was angry, I was disappointed. I started to have a little bit of self-doubt. It kind of creeps into your mind: Who else is thinking these things? Is she the only one?"

Khan came to the United States when he was 11 with his father, who had a green card and was then working in Phoenix.

He earned a degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, and worked in information technology before teaming up with his dad. Their restaurants are influenced by their roots in Bangladesh and England, where Khan was born.

Khan said he received constant support from customers and friends as the suit wrapped up. His family still hopes to find a Denver location to grow the business.

"If it weren't for me being (in America), I wouldn't have the life I do," he said. "I wouldn't enjoy the freedoms I have, and I wouldn't have the justice system that allowed her to have the consequences for acting like she did, Khan said."