Federal Court Complaint Challenges Connecticut Town's Discriminatory Treatment of Group Home for People with Disabilities
On April 17, 2017, Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center filed a housing discrimination lawsuit, on behalf of the Center and Gilead Community Services, against the Town of Cromwell, Connecticut. The complaint alleges that Cromwell and three of its high-ranking officials violated three federal civil rights laws--the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act--through an illegal and concerted campaign to force Gilead to close a residence for individuals with mental health diagnoses.
Gilead is a non-profit human services agency which, consistent with the objectives of federal civil rights laws, offers housing and community-based services so that individuals with mental illnesses can live in integrated settings in Middlesex County, Connecticut. In early 2015, Gilead purchased and renovated a single family property in Cromwell as a house where six men with mental health diagnoses would live. Under Connecticut law this living arrangement is a by-right use in residential neighborhoods, and should not be subjected to any zoning or other limitation not applicable to other single family homes.
Notwithstanding the clear provisions of state law, Cromwell's Mayor and Acting Town Manager first attempted to rally community support to keep the Gilead residence from opening in the first place. Thereafter, Cromwell officials misused municipal authorities to challenge Gilead's funding, issue a cease and desist order and wrongfully deny Gilead a local property tax exemption available to certain non-profit entities. As a consequence of these discriminatory actions, Gilead was forced to close the residence, sustained substantial monetary losses, and prospective residents who were ready for community living were forced to remain in institutional settings unnecessarily.
Defendants' unlawful acts required the Connecticut Fair Housing Center to divert its scarce resources to address the discrimination aimed at Gilead and its residents, and frustrated the Center's mission by undermining its educational and other efforts to secure equal housing rights regardless of disability.
Gilead and the Center seek an injunction to prevent Cromwell and its officials from violating the federal disability rights laws, as well as compensatory and punitive damages to punish defendants for their intentional or reckless disregard of the rights of people with disabilities to live in integrated housing of their choice in the community.
Michael Allen and Yiyang Wu lead the litigation team for Relman, Dane & Colfax. Greg Kirschner of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center is co-counsel.
The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, and assigned to the Hon. Victor Bolden, can be read below.