On April 17, 2017, Relman Colfax 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.

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 moved for summary judgment on all counts. On December 20, 2019, the district court denied Defendants' motion, holding that all of Plaintiffs’ claims should proceed to trial. In denying the motion, U.S. District Judge Victor Bolden found that there was substantial evidence to support a finding that the Town’s conduct violated the Fair Housing Act and other federal civil rights statutes by making housing unavailable, interfering with Gilead’s right to operate the home, retaliating against Gilead for asserting its fair housing rights, and stating the Town’s preference that people with mental illnesses not live in Cromwell.

On October 15, 2021, a federal jury awarded nearly $5.2 million in damages against the Town of Cromwell, Connecticut for discriminatory actions resulting in the closure of a small group home for six people with mental health disabilities run by Gilead Community Services. After 7 days of trial, the jury found for Gilead on all counts, determining that Cromwell officials’ prolonged and vociferous campaign to close the group home violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The jury found that Cromwell’s discriminatory actions merited one of the largest monetary awards ever achieved in such a case: $181,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

Case Caption

Gilead Community Services, Inc. v. Town of Cromwell, No. 3:17-cv-627 (D. Conn.)

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