DOJ files statement of interest in Seattle Housing Authority lawsuit involving Fair Housing Act
Lawsuit alleges discriminatory conduct against resident with quadriplegia with need for caregiver access
Seattle—The U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Washington and the U.S. Department Justice today filed a statement of interest in Roque v. Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) as part of DOJ’s work to safeguard the civil rights of all Americans, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. The suit arises out of the efforts of a resident of Raven Terrace in the Yesler Terrace area of Seattle to obtain parking garage access for his caregiver. The plaintiff, Tony Roque, has quadriplegia and requires caregiver assistance for his daily activities. Mr. Roque filed suit against the Seattle Housing Authority after it refused his request to modify its policies and allow his caregiver parking access in the building’s garage.
“With this filing DOJ is making clear what we believe to be the state of the law – the Fair Housing Act requires modifications to housing complex policies when modifications are necessary to afford a resident with a disability with equal access to the enjoyment of his or her home. That is true even when the accommodation relates to caregiver access, ” said U.S. Attorney Moran. “Safeguarding the rights of people with disabilities is even more important during this period of COVID-19, when the isolation and risks facing many people with disabilities are heightened.”
According to records filed in the case and the government’s statement of interest, Mr. Roque alleges that he needs caregiver assistance for the necessities of daily life – eating, dressing, administering medication, etc. Due to covid-19, the number of caregivers accessing his apartment has been reduced to one. That caregiver had been parking in the garage of Raven Terrace from 2018 until early March 2020 so that she could deliver Mr. Roque’s groceries and medical supplies and transport him to medical appointments, etc. On March 4, 2020, the Housing Authority had the caregiver’s car towed saying that since she was not a resident nor an employee she was not allowed to park in the building. When Mr. Roque requested a parking pass for the caregiver, his request was denied. The Seattle Housing Authority claimed that since the caregiver is not disabled, and the parking space was for the caregiver, it is not required to grant the accommodation.
In its statement of interest, DOJ states that under the FHA, a parking space for a caregiver of a resident with a disability may be a “necessary” accommodation under certain circumstances. Further under the ADA, a reasonable accommodation may not be denied solely because it would provide Mr. Roque with a benefit not available to other residents.
U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones issued a temporary restraining order on May 4, 2020, prohibiting the Seattle Housing Authority from towing the caregiver’s car. Judge Jones can make the order permanent, depending on the decision made by the Seattle Housing Authority on Mr. Roque’s appeal.
The statement of interest was filed by Assistant United States Attorney Christina Fogg, the Civil Rights Coordinator in the Western District of Washington, and by Trial Attorney Max Lapertosa of the DOJ Civil Rights Division.