Justice Department Sues Town of Wolcott, Connecticut, for Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities
The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit alleging that the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut, has discriminated against persons with disabilities in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, alleges that Wolcott violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to allow the operation of a group home for adults with disabilities because of the disabilities of the proposed home’s residents. The department’s complaint further alleges that the Town amended its zoning regulations to prohibit any community residence for adults with disabilities from operating in the Town, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
“The Fair Housing Act protects the right of individuals with disabilities to live and pursue happiness in this free country without suffering the indignity and injustice of discrimination dressed up as ‘zoning laws’ enacted or enforced as a result of misguided stereotypes and warped fears,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “Disability discrimination is unconscionable, unlawful, and unnecessarily injures people. The Fair Housing Act prohibits municipalities from applying their zoning laws in a manner that discriminates because of disability. The Civil Rights Division is committed to eliminating illegal discriminatory barriers and ensuring that the Fair Housing Act protects the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy homes of their choosing.”
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney John H. Durham for the District of Connecticut. “This lawsuit is a step toward ensuring a future in which all people are granted equal opportunity and full integration in our society.”
“Persons with disabilities have a right to housing that meets their needs, including group homes,” said Anna María Farías, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “HUD will continue working with the Justice Department to take appropriate action when discriminatory policies and practices unlawfully deny housing opportunities to those who need them the most.”
This case arose when the Town of Wolcott denied a special use permit to a property owner and group home operator who sought to open a residence for 13 adults with mental health disabilities. At the time, the Town’s zoning ordinance permitted the operation of community residences of up to 15 adults with disabilities so long as certain conditions were satisfied. The owner and operator filed a complaint with HUD after their special use permit application was denied.
The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting Wolcott from applying its zoning regulations in a manner that discriminates against persons with disabilities. The lawsuit also seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, as well as payment of a civil penalty. A related case challenging Wolcott’s conduct was filed by the owner and operator of the proposed residence. That case, SELF Inc. et al. v. Town of Wolcott, is pending before the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, or submit a report online at civilrights.justice.gov. Individuals may also contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or through its website at https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp.
The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.