Opening Acts: October 25, 2018

Injunction Allows Woman to Return Home

COURT ORDER PROTECTS FAIR HOUSING RIGHTS OF ELDERLY WOMAN WITH DISABILITIES

On September 10, 2018, Federal District Judge Vernon S. Broderick granted, in part, a preliminary injunction in connection to a federal lawsuit filed by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and two individual plaintiffs alleging that New York State and four adult homes discriminate against people with disabilities who use wheelchairs. One of the individual plaintiffs, an elderly woman with disabilities, alleges that she was barred from returning to VillageCare once she began using a wheelchair. The preliminary injunction directed Village Housing Development Fund to allow Ms. Doe to return to her home.

An FHJC undercover testing investigation, conducted after receiving complaints of discrimination from adult home residents, revealed that Village Housing Development Fund and three other adult care facilities — Elm York, LLC, Madison York Assisted Living Community, LLC, and Madison York Rego Park LLC – maintained and enforced blanket policies barring wheelchair users, regardless of their individual needs or abilities, and steered applicants who use wheelchairs to nursing homes. The lawsuit also alleges that the New York State Department of Health (DOH) promotes disability discrimination through its regulations and policies, including its policy permitting adult homes to ban wheelchair users from admission.

The individual plaintiff, referred to in the complaint as “Jane Doe,” has been a resident at VillageCare, an adult-care facility, and received assisted living program (ALP) services for over five years.  In April 2017, she was transferred to a hospital and then subsequently a nursing home for rehabilitation after complications arising from an infection. During this time, she began using a wheelchair for mobility. Two months later, VillageCare attempted to evict Jane Doe because of an internal policy barring admission of people who use wheelchairs and DOH regulations that supported such policies in ALPs and other facilities. Until now, Ms. Doe has not been able to leave the nursing home, which is unnecessarily restrictive and poses a substantial risk of irreparable harm.

Judge Broderick, in his decision stated, “the evidence indicates that Plaintiff is likely to establish that VillageCare had a policy of not admitting individuals who used wheelchairs, and after conducting a visual assessment indicating that Jane Doe used a wheelchair and had difficulties with her mobility, terminated Jane Doe’s admission on the basis of her wheelchair use.” As a result, the court found that Jane Doe will suffer, “irreparable harm if she does not return to her apartment at VillageCare.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Jota Borgmann, Jeanette Zelhof, Tanya Kessler, and Kevin  Cremin of the Mobilization for Justice, Inc. (MFJ) and Susan Silverstein and Iris Y. Gonzalez of the AARP Foundation Litigation, Inc.

The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen fair housing enforcement in the New York City region.