The Justice Department announced today that Sarasota County, Fla., has agreed to pay $760,000 to settle two lawsuits alleging that the county discriminated against persons with disabilities when it refused to allow group homes for persons in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse to operate. The federal government‘s lawsuit, filed in June 2006 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleged that Sarasota County‘s 2004 zoning decision that would have closed group homes for persons in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse, known as “Tammi House,” was motivated by intentional disability discrimination. The lawsuit also alleged that the county refused to grant a reasonable accommodation and retaliated against the operator of the homes, Renaissance Manor Inc., by refusing to award county grant funding. “The Fair Housing Act is clear that local governments cannot use their zoning and land use laws to discriminate against persons with disabilities,” said Rena J. Comisac, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue its commitment to ensure that local governments comply with all fair housing laws.” In April 2007, the government‘s lawsuit was consolidated with a private lawsuit filed by Renaissance Manor Inc. and four individual plaintiffs in May 2005. Coastal Behavioral Healthcare Inc., which co-owns Tammi House with Renaissance Manor, intervened in the government‘s lawsuit in September 2006. The private lawsuit will be resolved simultaneously with the government‘s lawsuit. Under the two settlements, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the county must pay a total of $750,000 to Renaissance Manor, Coastal Behavioral Healthcare Inc., and three individual plaintiffs, and $10,000 to the United States for the benefit of the public interest. The settlements also allow the group homes to continue to operate. The government‘s settlement prohibits future discrimination and requires the county to adopt policies to prevent future discrimination. The case began when Renaissance Manor Inc. filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD referred the complaint to the Justice Department, which conducted an investigation and filed suit in June 2006. Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call our Housing Discrimination Tip Line (1-800-896-7743), e-mail us at email@example.com, or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. Since Jan. 1, 2001, the Justice Department‘s Civil Rights Division has filed 240 cases to enforce the Fair Housing Act, 113 of which have alleged discrimination based on disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt.