Businesses should take steps to make sure that their business properties, operations and people are properly prepared to meet the special needs of customers and other persons with disabilities, language restrictions or other protected status requiring accommodation in light of the growing emphasis of the Obama Administration on enforcing disability discrimination laws.
The latest illustration of these risks came this week with Fair Housing Act.
On February 27, 2012, the Justice Department announced a $20,000 consent decree that resolves a lawsuit alleging that a Park City, Utah, condominium association and its management company for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act by refusing to grant a resident’s request for a reasonable accommodation. Meanwhile, Justice Department officials also announced their filing of disability discrimination charges against Bank of America in violation of the Fair Housing Act for discrimination against the disabled.
The landlord lawsuit, filed on Nov. 21, 2011, in U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, charged the Fox Point at Redstone Association, Property Management Systems and on-site property manager Derek Peterson with violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to grant a reasonable accommodation so that Thomas Burton, to keep a small dog in his rented apartment.
Burton, a disabled combat veteran of the first Gulf War, could keep a small dog in the condominium he rented to help him cope with the effects of depression and anxiety disorder.
The Justice Department lawsuit charged that in addition to refusing to allow Burton to keep the comfort dog, the defendants also illegally violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to waive their pet fees and insurance requirements and issuing multiple fines that eventually led to the non-renewal of Burton’s lease. To read more, click here.
BoA Disability Discrimination Charge
On February 28, 2012, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is charging Bank of America with discriminating against homebuyers with disabilities. HUD alleges that Bank of America imposed unnecessary and difficult requirements on borrowers who depended on disability income to qualify for their home loans. In some cases borrowers had to provide physician statements to qualify for their loans. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to have different application or qualification standards just because the applicant has a disability. Except in limited situations, it is also against the law to ask about the nature or severity of a person’s disability.
Discrimination Charges Growing
The suit over Burton’s rights and charges against Bank of America are two of a growing number of claims that U.S. businesses as well as government agencies that fail to adapt their business practices increasingly face under Federal discrimination laws.
The growing list of lawsuits and settlement agreements are a reminder that private businesses and state and local government agencies alike should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges.
All organizations, whether public or private need to make sure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current disability and other nondiscrimination laws. When reviewing these responsibilities, many state and local governments and private businesses may need to update their understanding of current requirements. The scope and applicability of disability and various other federal nondiscrimination and other laws have been expanded or modified in recent years by statutory, regulatory or enforcement changes.
For Help With Risk Management, Compliance & Other Strategic Management
If you need help in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.
Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping businesses implement, audit, manage and defend human resources and other operations practices, procedures and actions. Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefit Committee, immediate past Chair of the and current Welfare Plan Committee Co-Chair of the RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, former Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters. She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.
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