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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Justice Department Sues Beaumont, Texas, for Discrimination Against People with Disabilities

The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the city of Beaumont, Texas, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, charges that Beaumont discriminated against persons with disabilities based on its treatment of small group homes and companion care homes for persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities by applying overly-restrictive zoning and fire code restrictions that are not imposed on similarly-situated housing for persons who do not have disabilities.    

The suit seeks a court order prohibiting Beaumont from imposing a one-half mile spacing rule that effectively prohibits many small group homes and companion care homes from operating in Beaumont.  The suit further seeks to prohibit Beaumont from imposing unnecessary fire code requirements that exceed those mandated by the state of Texas, which regulates such homes.  The city’s excessive restrictions have prohibited numerous persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities from living in Beaumont and resulted in the institutionalization in a nursing home of a woman who was forced to move out of her home.  The suit also seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, as well as payment of a civil penalty.

This lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities whose homes were closed and were threatened with closure under Beaumont’s challenged housing restrictions. 

“The Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act seek to ensure that individuals with disabilities can live in communities of their choice without facing discrimination,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.  “This lawsuit furthers our commitment to community inclusion for persons with disabilities.” 

“Fair housing practices for all Americans and certainly for individuals with disabilities is a keystone civil right and one which today’s legal action underscores,” said U.S. Attorney John Malcolm Bales of the Eastern District of Texas.  “We trust that the city of Beaumont will respond appropriately but the department and the U.S. Attorney’s office is prepared to take the necessary steps to insure that these rights are enforced.”

“Persons with disabilities should not be further limited in their housing options by overly restrictive codes and policies,” said HUD Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.  “HUD will continue to work with the Justice Department to support neighborhood-based choices for people with disabilities.”

Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department.  The Federal 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.

Updated August 5, 2015