The housing authority of a city in Indiana will pay $70,000 to compensate seven victims of discrimination identified by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The lawsuit, United States v. Housing Authority of the City of Anderson, filed September 14 in the Southern District of Indiana, alleged that the Anderson Housing Authority (AHA) “routinely denied or ignored” disability-related requests for maintenance, accommodation, or modification from tenants, “sometimes for years at a time”—even when the requests came with doctors’ notes.
The AHA was created in 1975 to provide “safe and sanitary dwelling accommodations for persons of low income.” It owns and operates 143 public housing units at two multi-family apartment complexes, Lynwood Village and Westvale Manor; it also administers the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development housing choice voucher program in the city.
A settlement agreement reached on Thursday alleges that the AHA violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating “on the basis of disability and sex and/or a denial of rights to a group of persons on the basis of disability and sex that raises an issue of public importance.”
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The settlement obtained by the Justice Department—which has been investigating the matter since 2015—requires the AHA to pay monetary damages to seven tenants, ranging from $4,000 to $15,000 each, within the next 30 days. The AHA must additionally make reasonable accommodations for all its tenants, update its nondiscrimination policies, submit reports to the Justice Department, and no longer employ former maintenance contractor Curtis Stowes, according to the 16-page settlement agreement.
In addition to Stowes, the seven-page complaint named as defendants now-AHA Executive Director Charles Weatherly, manager Connie Klungness, and maintenance workers Bill Hofer and Brian White.
The lawsuit claimed the defendants received written or oral reasonable requests from disabled tenants that they ignored. These include:
- Tenants asking for ground floor units because of their mobility issues.
- Tenants wishing to be assigned designated accessible parking spots because they were not able to walk far.
- Tenants wanting grab bars installed in their bathrooms as a safety measure.
- Tenants with canes or wheelchairs requesting the sidewalks and common areas be cleaned of ice and snow in the winter.
The complaint also said that AHA employees made unwelcome comments about female tenants’ bodies and appearance, and that women dealt with unwelcome sexual advances and unwanted solicitations for sex.
“Sexual harassment of women and discrimination against persons with disabilities are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore of the Civil Rights Division in a Justice Department press release. “We will continue to vigorously combat such discrimination, including in public housing.”
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and familial status.
The lawsuit noted that the housing authority in Anderson did not have a reasonable modification or accommodation policy in place as the FHA requires; nor did it provide any training or education to its employees about what to do with disability-related requests.
The AHA denied the allegations but agreed to resolve the case pre-trial, providing that the settlement agreement was not seen as a finding or admission of liability.
“Enjoying a safe place to live, free of discrimination and sexual harassment is a fundamental right we all are entitled to,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana Josh Minkler in the release. “My office remains committed to aggressively pursuing the enforcement of civil rights and fighting discrimination in Indiana.”
“This settlement underscores the importance of local fair housing centers in ensuring open housing markets across the country. The Department of Justice pursued this matter because the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana investigated and filed a lawsuit against the housing authority in question in 2016,” Morgan Williams, general counsel at the National Fair Housing Alliance, told Rewire. That case has also reached a settlement which has been filed in court is pending a judge’s signature, he said.