WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that the operator and manager of the Rathbone Retirement Community in Evansville, Ind., has agreed to pay up to $116,000 to resolve a housing discrimination lawsuit. The November 2008 lawsuit alleged that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act by prohibiting the use of motorized wheelchairs and scooters in residents’ apartments and in the home’s common dining room during meals.
"Persons with disabilities who live in retirement communities are entitled to the protections of the Fair Housing Act," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "This agreement will ensure equal access to housing for those individuals who use mobility aids to move about independently in their daily lives."
"This enforcement action provides yet another real-life example of our commitment to support the rights of persons with disabilities," said U.S. Attorney Timothy M. Morrison for the Southern District of Indiana.
The agreement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, requires Rathbone Retirement Community Inc. and its resident manager Norma Helm to pay a total of $70,000 to three former residents. It also requires them to establish a $25,000 settlement fund for others who may have been injured by the policy and pay the government a $21,000 civil penalty. The agreement requires the defendants to provide fair housing training for employees, adopt nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodation policies, and maintain and submit records to the United States for the two-year term of the agreement.
"Wheelchair access is vital for many seniors and people with disabilities. This settlement underscores the importance of that right and the government’s resolve to it," stated John Trasvina, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The case originated when two former residents of the Rathbone Retirement Community filed separate complaints with HUD. HUD investigated the complaints, determined there was reasonable cause to believe that unlawful housing discrimination had occurred and referred the matter to the Justice Department.
Persons with disabilities who believe they may have been discriminated against in connection with their dealings with the Rathbone Retirement Community should call 1-800-896-7743 and select menu option 94 to determine how they can make a claim for damages.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line (1-800-896-7743), email the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.