Justice Department Secures $293,000 Jury Award Against City of Springfield, Illinois, for Discriminating Against People with Disabilities
WASHINGTON – On July 26, 2022, following a two-day trial, a federal jury awarded $293,000 in damages against the City of Springfield, Illinois, for attempting to close a group home for people with developmental disabilities in 2016.
In 2014, three residents with intellectual and physical disabilities moved into a single- family home on Noble Avenue in Springfield, Illinois, where they received community residential services from a state-licensed provider, Individual Advocacy Group (IAG). Such arrangements, known as Community Integrated Living Arrangements (CILAs), permit residents with disabilities to live in an integrated community setting rather than an institution. Even though the home was operating in compliance with state requirements, the City attempted to shut it down in 2016. The City relied on a local spacing ordinance that prohibited two homes for individuals with disabilities from operating within 600 feet of one another.
The United States filed suit against the City of Springfield in 2017. In 2020, the Court ruled that the City had violated the Fair Housing Act by enforcing the spacing ordinance against the home, granting the United States’ and IAG’s motions for summary judgment on liability. This week’s jury trial was to determine what damages should be awarded for any harm caused by the City’s conduct. The jury determined that the City should pay a total of $293,000: $162,000 in compensatory damages to the residents of the home and their guardians; and $131,000 in compensatory damages to IAG.
“The Fair Housing Act prevents cities from maintaining discriminatory zoning laws and enforcing them against their citizens,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division. “This verdict recognizes the significant pain and real harm that results when officials undertake discriminatory action to block group homes. We will continue to vigorously enforce the FHA to ensure that people with disabilities can live in the communities and housing of their choice, free from discrimination.”
“Persons with disabilities should have the same housing choices as all members of our community,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua I. Grant for the Central District of Illinois. “The jury’s verdict shows how persons with disabilities can often face barriers that make their lives more difficult and erode their dignity. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work with the Department of Justice to ensure equal access to housing and justice for the citizens of the Central District of Illinois.”
The United States is also seeking a civil penalty and an injunction requiring the City to take certain corrective and preventive actions. The United States’ request for such relief is pending with the Court.
Individual Advocacy Group and Mary B. Valencia, sister and guardian of one of the residents, are represented by Kennedy Hunt, P.C., a law firm in St. Louis, MO.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of 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 they have been victims of housing discrimination may submit a report online at www.civilrights.justice.gov, or may contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or through its website at www.hud.gov.