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Final Settlement Reached in Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Against Operators of Residential Treatment Facilities

Photo © by Bernard Kleina

July 14, 2023


The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced today that a settlement has been reached with Phoenix Houses of New York, Inc, the final defendant in a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) alleging disability discrimination by four operators of residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation residences located in New York.

Originally filed in April 2021, the lawsuit alleged that the defendants refused to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter services and declined to give Deaf and hard of hearing persons access to their residential recovery facilities, in violation of the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Affordable Care Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

The case was the result of an FHJC investigation in which testers posed as relatives of Deaf persons seeking a residential recovery program. The investigation represents a cutting-edge innovation in systemic fair housing testing of residential treatment centers.

The final settlement was so ordered by Hon. Judge Eric N. Vitaliano on July 13, 2023. Separate settlements with defendants Arms Acres, Inc. and Liberty Management Group, Inc., and with defendant Odyssey House, Inc. were previously reached.

Phoenix Houses have agreed to pay monetary relief of $40,000 and to extensive injunctive relief including:

  • Agreement to not refuse to admit prospective residents because they are Deaf and/or hard of hearing, and to not refuse to provide auxiliary services such as ASL interpreters when necessary for effective communication;
  • Adopting new policies and procedures for communications with Deaf or hard of hearing people, including the development of a customized Communication Plan for residents who request such auxiliary services;
  • Including depictions of protected classes under the ADA in any advertising that uses human models;
  • Changes to defendant’s website to prominently feature information on fair housing, accessibility, and sign language interpretation, and anti-discrimination laws;
  • Placing a sign at the admissions area informing the public to inquire about any disability accommodations needed;
  • Training for key facility staff on legal issues concerning Deaf and hard of hearing people, including cultural competency training as it relates to Deaf culture and other protected classes, and types of services and assistance that may need to be provided to persons who are Deaf or hearing impaired; and
  • Agreement to maintain and make available specific records for review by the FHJC to document efforts made to comply with the terms of the settlements.

“These four facility operators were excluding untold numbers of Deaf people from the crucial care needed to fight their addiction and turn their lives around.,” stated FHJC Executive Director/General Counsel Elizabeth Grossman. “While the Phoenix Houses settlement brings this lawsuit to a close, the industry should take note: the FHJC and other organizations will continue to fight for the rights of Deaf and hard of hearing people to have equal access to all residential recovery programs.”

“We are thrilled with the tremendous results FHJC has achieved and are confident that this consent decree is a ground-breaking and positive step forward in making this industry more accessible for the Deaf Community,” stated Andrew Rozynski of Eisenberg & Baum, LLP. The FHJC was represented by Andrew Rozynski, Eric Baum, and Reyna Lubin with the law firm of Eisenberg & Baum LLP.

The full settlement can be read HERE.

A complete list of translation services, devices, and practices legally required to be provided for Deaf and hard of hearing persons living in residential treatment centers, nursing homes, or assisted living facilities is available on FHJC’s website. Click here to view and download the Guide to Auxiliary Aids and Services, produced in conjunction with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).

short educational video and two public service announcements that discuss the fair housing rights of Deaf and hard of hearing persons in residential treatment facilities are also available on FHJC’s website. Click here to view and to learn more. The videos were directed and produced by Hypernovas Productions.

FHJC’s investigation in this case was supported with funding from Enterprise Community Partners (ECP) under the Eliminating Barriers to Housing in New York (EBHNY) Initiative.

The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.