DECISION MARKS ANOTHER SIGNIFICANT VICTORY FOR PEOPLE WHO USE WHEELCHAIRS
The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) has reached a settlement with four assisted living facilities in a lawsuit challenging discrimination against people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users.
The case stemmed from complaints by residents of adult care facilities about discrimination against people who use wheelchairs. One former resident, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, was prohibited from returning to her home of five years and threatened with eviction after she began using a wheelchair.
After conducting undercover testing investigations, FHJC alleged that four state-licensed and Medicaid-funded facilities, Elm York LLC, Madison York Assisted Living Community LLC, and Madison York Rego Park LLC (the Yorks) and Village Housing Development Fund (VillageCare), were denying applicants and evicting residents who use wheelchairs. FHJC also alleged that New York State promoted disability discrimination through its regulations and policies, including its policy permitting such facilities to ban wheelchair users from admission.
The settlement requires the facilities’ operators to end discrimination against individuals with mobility impairments, including wheelchair users, and to admit them on the same basis as other applicants and provide equal access to housing opportunities and services. The Yorks have agreed to pay the FHJC $317,500 for damages and attorneys’ fees and costs, while VillageCare will pay $287,007. VillageCare will also pay the Estate of Jane Doe, who was a VillageCare resident, $112,993 in damages.
Federal District Court Judge Hon. Vernon S. Broderick so-ordered the Yorks settlement on December 21, and the VillageCare settlement on December 28. FHJC was represented by attorneys from AARP Foundation, Mobilization for Justice, and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. The settlement comes on the heels of a similar agreement FHJC reached on December 17 against the operator of an assisted living program in East Harlem.
“Excluding someone from accessing housing and assisted living services because of a disability violates federal law,” said William Alvarado Rivera, Senior Vice President of Litigation at AARP Foundation. “As fierce defenders of all older adults, we are pleased these settlements will allow eligible current and future residents of New York’s adult care facilities to live where they want.”
“We commend the Yorks and VillageCare for agreeing to take affirmative steps to correct past discrimination. Other operators should take note that there are consequences for refusing to make assisted living services available to people who use wheelchairs,” said Jota Borgmann, Senior Staff Attorney at Mobilization for Justice. “We hope the State of New York finally will have the courage to take action and systematically end discrimination by the adult care facilities it licenses and regulates.”
“Discrimination against wheelchair users and others with physical limitations cannot be tolerated anywhere, but especially not at adult care facilities where such disabilities are quite common,” said David Keyko, a partner at Pillsbury. Jay Dealy, counsel at Pillsbury, added, “We hope this settlement will remind other care providers of their obligations to those they serve.”
“This settlement will ensure that these facilities will no longer maintain policies or practices that systematically exclude people with mobility impairments,” said Elizabeth Grossman, Executive Director of Fair Housing Justice Center. “Wheelchair users have every right to reside in adult care facilities, and the FHJC will continue to take action when facilities fail to comply with fair housing laws.”
About the Fair Housing Justice Center
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. FHJC’s investigation in this case was supported with funding from a Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI) grant received from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
About AARP Foundation
AARP Foundation works to end senior poverty by helping vulnerable people over 50 build economic opportunity. Our approach emphasizes equitable outcomes for populations that have faced systemic discrimination. As AARP’s charitable affiliate, we serve AARP members and nonmembers alike. Through vigorous legal advocacy and evidence-based solutions, and by building supportive community connections, we foster resilience, advance equity and restore hope. To learn more, visit aarpfoundation.org or follow @AARPFoundation on social media.
About Mobilization for Justice
Mobilization for Justice envisions a society in which there is equal justice for all. Mobilization for Justice’s mission is to achieve social justice, prioritizing the needs of people who are low-income, disenfranchised or have disabilities. We do this by providing the highest quality direct civil legal assistance, conducting community education and building partnerships, engaging in policy advocacy, and bringing impact litigation. Visit mobilizationforjustice.org for more information.
About Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP is an international law firm with a particular focus on the technology & life sciences, energy, financial, and real estate & construction sectors. Recognized as one of the most innovative law firms by Financial Times and one of the top firms for client service by BTI Consulting, Pillsbury and its lawyers are highly regarded for their forward-thinking approach, their enthusiasm for collaborating across disciplines and their authoritative commercial awareness.