Department of Justice Addresses Disability Discrimination in Housing

In recent proposed settlements in Wisconsin and Ohio, the U.S. Department of Justice targets disability discrimination against tenants by landlords.

Courtroom gavel on top of document.
The Fair Housing Act is one of many laws protecting people of all abilities. photo credit: My Trusty Gavel via photopin (license)

The Fair Housing Act establishes that housing should be accessible to people of all abilities.

According to a press release from the Department of Justice, a Wisconsin landlord and manager allegedly “discriminated against two residents of Applewood Apartments, a mother and daughter living together, and denied them rights by refusing to renew the residents’ lease because of their disabilities; demanding that they develop a ‘plan’ to deal with the daughter’s purported disability-related behavior (she is a person with Down Syndrome); and pressuring them to move.”

Discrimination, according to the press release, allegedly included not taking “prompt action to correct and end disability-related harassment by other tenants,” such as when other tenants made called the daughter “mentally retarded,” and stated “You don’t belong here. . . you belong in an institution,” as well as tenants interfering with their daily life on the premises.

Statue of woman holding scales representing weighing the sides of justice.
The U.S. Department of Justice ensures that Americans are treated fairly under the law. photo credit: Scales of Justice – Frankfurt Version via photopin (license)

According to the press release, terms of the settlement with the landlord are subject to U.S. District Court approval, and would include:

  • paying the complainants $40,000 in damages;
  • maintaining non-discrimination policies;
  • advertising themselves as equal opportunity housing provider; and
  • attending fair housing training.

Another case involves student housing at Kent State University in Ohio, according to a Department of Justice press release.

According to the release, the lawsuit alleges that Kent State University (KSU) “maintained a policy of not allowing students with psychological disabilities to keep emotional support animals in university-operated student housing.”

Picture of nine service animals with service animal vests.
Whether they are for physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities, the right to a service dog is in most cases guaranteed under the law. photo credit: Service Dogs of Hawaii Fi-Do, Training Session, Working Dogs, Job, Group Photo via photopin (license)

A settlement agreement between the department and university must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. If approved, KSU will:

  • pay $100,000 to two former students who allegedly were “denied a reasonable accommodation to keep an emotional support dog in their university-operated apartment;”
  • pay $30,000 to the fair housing organization that advocated on behalf of the students;
  • pay $15,000 to the United States; and
  • adopt a housing policy that allows people with psychological disabilities to “keep animals with them in university housing when such animals provide necessary therapeutic benefits to such students and allowing the animal would not fundamentally alter the nature of the housing.”

The university has also agreed to accommodate similar requests in the future, according to the release.

“This settlement shows the department’s continued and strong commitment to ensuring that students in university housing are afforded the protections of the Fair Housing Act,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said in the release.

The settlement demonstrates that on-campus housing has to comply with the Fair Housing Act like other housing providers.

Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov , or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs’ website .

Advocacy to Avoid Disability Discrimination Lawsuits

When people with disabilities encounter disability discrimination, they may think the only option is to sue. Or, they may let the issue go, thinking hiring a lawyer may be too expensive or time consuming.

Litigation in court costs money, and matters are resolved over a period of time–sometimes years. That’s too long to wait for a pressing need.

Gavel rests on top of desk with court room participants in distance
The courtroom is a place to solve problems as a last resort. photo credit: CA Supreme Court – 11 via photopin (license)

Other options are available to get access and inclusion.

Many businesses, organizations, and agencies understand that they should respect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  and other federal laws that protect Americans with disabilities . One way to raise awareness is to share the law with them.

When agencies, organizations, and businesses know the laws and don’t want to make accommodations or include people with disabilities, there are other remedies.

According to the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities’ (CTD) Messenger e-Newsletter, a lawsuit should come after other efforts have been made to see if a solution can be reached.

The CTD newsletter suggests three actions before seeking a lawyer:

Wheelchair ramp leads up to steps
Here’s a situation businesses could understand better once someone pulled their wheelchair up to this ramp. photo credit: Ramp to No where via photopin (license)
  • Talk to the business directly CTD recommends asking for the manager or the property manager. A CTD example shows that calling attention to access for one disability can benefit others: “CTD was approached by a group of taxi drivers who were concerned that the drop-off area [for Austin City Limits] was far from the entrance gates and required people with mobility impairments to traverse a ditch. CTD staff met with Festival organizers … By the next year, vehicles transporting people with disabilities were allowed to pull right up to the entrance gate. Plus, the Festival added accommodations such as an accessibility station and free rental wheelchairs, and ASL interpreters became permanent.”
  • Put it in writing An example where this worked: “Austin resident Julie Maloukis sent Maudie’s Tex Mex written notice about their inaccessible parking. Several weeks later, Maudie’s contacted Julie, thanking her for letting them know about the situation and to tell her the parking spaces were fixed.”
  • File a complaint with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, “which might be able to require a business to comply with ADA regulations.” What does the Department of Licensing and Regulation do? According to the agency’s website, they “ensure public safety and customer protection, and provide a fair and efficient licensing and regulatory environment at the lowest possible cost.” The department has influence over businesses, particularly if the business requires a license. Complaints can be filed against businesses that are unlicensed too.

Another way to educate others is to ask to schedule a demonstration of the lack of access or inclusion. When staff at businesses learn how the problem affects others, they are more willing to help.

For example, if a ramp is too steep at the entrance to business, offer to demonstrate for them why. Have someone to spot the wheelchair as you attempt to travel up or down the ramp, and keep safe.

Captions on bottom of TV screen showing news about Oprah and Australia.
Watching TV without sound or captions is a quick way to teach why captions are important to those with hearing loss or deafness. photo credit: NICOLE CHETTLE via photopin (license)

If you need communication access, demonstrate how the experience would be without sound or words. For example, if you need a video captioned, have them watch the video with you without any sound. Have them read a paper with their eyes closed or in the dark if you are requesting Braille and they don’t understand why.

Be creative with teaching others to understand. Misunderstandings lead to discrimination continuing. Once everyone is on the same page, it’s easier to find a reasonable solution.

In many cases, these steps will work with solving  discrimination situations.

If not, another option before filing a lawsuit is to ask a lawyer to draft a letter discussing their obligations under the law, so that they are aware of the seriousness of the situation.

Whether the person chooses to take a matter to court is his or her right. Each person needs to evaluate how severe the situation is, and if a possible solution can be reached without deciding to sue.

EEOC sues McDonald’s for Discrimination against Applicant who is Deaf

While many people were Christmas shopping, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, filed a lawsuit for disability discrimination against McDonald’s.

According to a Disability.gov update, the EEOC has charged McDonald’s Corporation and McDonald’s Restaurants of Missouri with disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“An applicant who is deaf applied for a job at a McDonald’s in Belton, Missouri. When the restaurant learned that the applicant needed a sign language interpreter as a reasonable accommodation for his job interview, they allegedly canceled the interview and wouldn’t reschedule it,” according to the Disability.gov update.

Man speaks and sign language interpreter signs with hands what he's saying.
Sign language interpreters aren’t a want for employees who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing and request them, they are a need. While employees may not need interpreters for most tasks, if they request an interpreter, the request should be taken seriously.

How might McDonald’s management have broken the law?

According to the ADA, “Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits private employers, State and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including State and local governments.”

According to the EEOC’s press release, they filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s for violating federal “by refusing to accommodate and hire a deaf applicant…”

“When the Belton restaurant manager learned [the applicant] needed a sign language interpreter for his job interview, she canceled the interview and never rescheduled it, despite the [applicant’s] sister volunteering to act as the interpreter. Restaurant management continued to interview and hire new workers after [the applicant] made several attempts to schedule an interview,” according to the press release.

According to the press release, “EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief, including training for all McDonald’s managers on accommodations for applicants with disabilities, particularly those who are deaf.”

Disability symbol
“People with disabilities have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country,” EEOC Regional Attorney Andrea G. Baran said.

“People with disabilities have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country,” EEOC Regional Attorney Andrea G. Baran said in the press release. “Providing equal employment opportunities to all job applicants – including those with disabilities – is not just the law, it is good for our economy and our workplaces.”

According to a Disability.gov bulletin, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a service for people who use American Sign Language (ASL). The Direct Video Access program helps people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing get information in ASL about employment discrimination issues, including filing discrimination complaints. Call 844-234-5122 from 7 a.m.- 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, to be connected to an EEOC representative who is fluent in ASL.