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Friday, March 4, 2016

Justice Department and City of Fort Worth, Texas, Settle Lawsuit Alleging Disability Discrimination

The Justice Department announced today that the city of Fort Worth, Texas, has agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that Fort Worth discriminated against persons with disabilities when it refused to allow a group home for individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction to operate in a single family residential zone in the city.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2015, alleged that the city violated the Fair Housing Act when it issued multiple citations and fines against a four bedroom group home, known as Ebby’s place, in which residents who have successfully completed at least a 30-day drug or alcohol treatment program live together to reinforce and encourage their mutual commitment to recovery.  After receiving the citations, Ebby’s Place requested a zoning variance that would allow it to operate, which the city council unanimously denied.

Under the terms of the agreement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth will allow Ebby’s Place to operate with up to seven residents and will rescind all the citations it had previously issued against the home.  Fort Worth will also pay $135,000 to Ebby’s Place in monetary damages and $10,000 to the United States as a civil penalty.  As a part of the settlement, Fort Worth also adopted an ordinance establishing a process whereby persons may seek reasonable accommodations from the city’s zoning or land use laws and practices, where such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing.

The lawsuit arose as a result of a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by Ben Patterson, who through Ebby’s Place LLC, owns and operates the group home.  After conducting an investigation, HUD referred the matter to the Department of Justice.  Ebby’s Place later intervened in the Justice Department’s lawsuit.  Today’s agreement would also settle the lawsuit filed by Ebby’s Place.

“The Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act protect individuals with disabilities from housing discrimination, including discriminatory zoning practices,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “We commend the city of Fort Worth for working with the Justice Department to reach an agreement that will safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities in our communities.”

“The city of Fort Worth has cooperated in this investigation from the beginning,” said U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.  “There was never any doubt in my mind that the city leaders would work with the Department of Justice to achieve the right result, and they’ve done just that.”

Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department.  The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.  Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities.  Visit www.usdoj.gov/crt for more information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces.  Additional information about the Fair Housing Act is available at www.HUD.gov.  Additional information about the Americans with Disabilities Act is available at www.ADA.gov.

Fort Worth Consent Decree

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 
16-256
Updated March 4, 2016