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Opening Acts: November 23, 2021

Settlement Reached in Disability Lawsuit Against Operator of Residential Treatment Facilities 

AGREEMENT ENSURES DEAF PEOPLE HAVE ACCESS TO INTERPRETERS AND OTHER AUXILIARY AIDS AND SERVICES

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced today that a settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) alleging disability discrimination by Odyssey House, Inc. operators of residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation residences located in New York.

Originally filed in April 2021, the lawsuit alleged that the defendants refused to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter services and declined to give deaf persons access to their residential recovery facilities. The alleged conduct violates the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Affordable Care Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

The settlement agreement was so ordered by the Hon. Judge Lewis J. Liman on November 2, 2021.

The case was the result of an FHJC investigation in which testers posed as relatives of deaf persons seeking a residential recovery program. The investigation represents a cutting-edge innovation in systemic fair housing testing of residential treatment centers.

Though denying the allegations, the defendants have agreed to pay monetary relief of $107,500 and extensive injunctive relief including:

  • Agreement to not refuse to admit prospective residents because they are deaf and/or hard of hearing, and to not refuse to provide auxiliary services such as ASL interpreters when necessary for effective communication;
  • Adopting new policies and procedures for communications with deaf or hard of hearing persons, including the development of a customized Communication Plan for residents who request such auxiliary services;
  • Including depictions of protected classes in any advertising that uses human models;
  • Changes to defendant’s websites to prominently feature information on fair housing, accessibility, and sign language interpretation;
  • Training for key facility staff on legal issues concerning the deaf and hard of hearing persons as well as sensitivity issues regarding deaf and hard of hearing and other protected classes;
  • Agreement to maintain and make available specific records over several years for review by the FHJC to document efforts made to comply with the terms of the settlements.

“This groundbreaking settlement will ensure that deaf individuals will have the same right to treatment, and all related services, as everyone else,” stated FHJC Executive Director Elizabeth Grossman. “The extensive injunctive relief included in this settlement should inspire other residential treatment facilities to ensure that they are in full compliance with fair housing laws.”

A complete list of translation services, devices, and practices legally required to be provided for deaf and hard of hearing persons living in residential treatment centers, nursing homes, or assisted living facilities is available on FHJC’s website. Click here to view and download the Guide to Auxiliary Aids and Services, produced in conjunction with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).

The FHJC is represented by Andrew Rozynski, Eric Baum, and Reyna Lubin with the law firm of Eisenberg & Baum LLP.

FHJC’s investigation in this case was supported with funding from Enterprise Community Partners (ECP) under the Eliminating Barriers to Housing in New York (EBHNY) Initiative.

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 enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.