Supreme Court Delivers a Major Victory against Housing Discrimination

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued several landmark decisions for all Americans, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

In a 6-3 opinion in King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court held that federal tax subsidies are being provided lawfully in those states that have decided not to run the marketplace exchanges for insurance coverage. This is a huge win for the Affordable Care Act and people with disabilities throughout the country.

Less prominent, but a tremendous victory for civil rights, is the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. – a ruling that will support the continued progress of people with disabilities and other minorities toward full inclusion in all aspects of American life.

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that housing discrimination is illegal, even if it is not intentional. This decision upholds a longstanding principle under the Fair Housing Act, known as “disparate impact.” By finally settling the question of whether the language of the Fair Housing Act allows for claims based on disparate impact, as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does, the decision supports our nation’s progress toward integrated, inclusive communities that foster opportunities for all Americans.

In the case, a fair housing advocacy organization sued the state of Texas, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act for awarding federal tax credits in a way that kept low-income housing out of predominantly white neighborhoods, thereby denying minorities access to affordable housing in communities where they might access better schools and greater economic opportunity. The state was not accused of intentionally excluding African-Americans from predominantly white neighborhoods, but of structuring its tax credit assignments in such a way that they had a discriminatory effect.

At stake in this case was not only the claims brought against the state of Texas, but also whether the key legal protections provided under disparate impact would continue to be available under the Fair Housing Act.

As noted in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act of 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “to eradicate discriminatory practices within a sector of the Nation’s economy.” As amended, today the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of disability, race, national origin, religion, gender, and familial status.

Disparate impact is a legal doctrine that holds that the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws prohibit policies and practices that discriminate, whether or not the policies were motivated by the intent to harm a particular group.

For over 40 years, the disparate impact doctrine has been a key tool protecting the rights of people with disabilities, people of color, and other groups covered by the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws to have equal opportunity to live and work in the communities that that they choose. It has formed the basis for federal regulations and has been used extensively by the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and civil rights organizations to fight housing and employment discrimination across the United States.

The ability to allege disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act has been upheld by 11 federal appeals courts, but the Supreme Court has never before issued an opinion in a fair housing disparate impact case.

Fortunately, a majority of the Supreme Court upheld the disparate impact standard, finding that recognition of disparate impact claims is consistent with the Fair Housing Act’s central purpose.

This week’s decision marks an important milestone in our nation’s path toward integration and inclusion. It’s a major victory that shores up the progress that people with disabilities and civil rights organizations have made over the last four decades, and strengthens our ongoing work to end discrimination in all its forms.

To learn more:

The Arc Reacts to Historic Verdict on Behalf of Workers with Intellectual Disabilities

Washington, DC – Earlier this week a Davenport, Iowa jury awarded damages totaling $240 million to 32 men with intellectual and developmental disabilities who worked for Henry’s Turkey Service in Atalissa for decades.  It was the largest verdict in the history of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed the case, for disability discrimination and unlawful harassment.  Just one day after hearing closing arguments, the jury agreed with the EEOC that Henry’s Turkey Service subjected the men to severe harassment and discrimination that warranted punitive and compensatory damages for each man.

“While this verdict is a victory for the workers who can feel triumph knowing that the abuse they faced did not go unpunished, it’s also a harsh reminder to the disability movement that we must continue to be vigilant in this modern era of progressive employment practices to guard against these kinds of atrocities.  The abuse of these men didn’t end decades ago – it was still going on as recently as 2009, and that is unacceptable.  I applaud the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for their pursuit of justice for people with disabilities in the workplace and urge them to continue this important work. Individuals with disabilities have the right to work in a safe work environment free of exploitation, and this verdict sends a message that this kind of abuse will not be tolerated,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Last year, EEOC claimed that Henry’s Turkey Service violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by paying 32 workers with intellectual disabilities severely substandard wages.  The company denied the workers their full wages by claiming a “credit” for substandard living conditions.  In September 2012, a district court judge ordered the company to pay its former employees a total of $1.3 million for jobs they performed at a turkey processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa between 2007 and 2009 for about 41 cents an hour.  Combining last year’s ruling and this week’s verdict, the total judgment in this case is $241.3 million.

Love is in the Air – Media Profiles People with Disabilities in Marriage and Parenting

Washington, DC – As we approach Valentine’s Day, today two major media outlets released heartwarming profiles of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) achieving their dreams – falling in love, getting married, and being a parent.

Today, the Washington Post released a lengthy profile of Bill Ott and Shelley Belgard, a couple from Maryland who were married in September after a long courtship.  Bill and Shelley met as teenagers, dated, and re-connected later in life.  Bill has Down syndrome and Shelley has hydrocephalus.  But no disability could keep them apart, and today, Bill and Shelley are married, living independently with supports, working in the community, and enjoying their lives together.

“Bill’s and Shelley’s path to marriage is not unlike many others who fall in love, lose touch as life takes its turns, and reconnect later in life when the time is right.  They have a love that is as true as anyone else’s, and with support from family and the community, they are living their dream.  The reality is not everyone has access to all the support and resources that Shelley and Bill have had, but when people with disabilities are given the tools they need to succeed, look at what is possible – a life like yours and mine,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

NPR also ran an interview this morning with Bonnie and Myra Brown, a mother and daughter from Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.  Bonnie is a single mother raising 15 year old Myra, and Bonnie has an intellectual disability.  Myra is grateful for her mother’s love and guidance, and the interview with them is so moving that the radio host is heard choking up.

“Raising a child is a wonderful experience that comes with challenges for any parent.  Bonnie and Myra’s touching story is proof that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be successful parents when provided proper supports, and they should have the same right to parent as others do,” said Berns.

Unfortunately, there is a dark history of discrimination toward individuals with I/DD in our nation and around the world.  This includes the denial of rights and opportunities to have relationships, get married and have their own children.  Earlier this year, The National Council on Disability released a very telling report on the rights of parents who have disabilities.  Four million parents—6 percent of American mothers and fathers—have a disability.  The rate at which children are taken from parents who have intellectual and developmental disabilities is between 40% and 80%.  This report uncovers the heartbreaking reality for too many families across the country – parents with disabilities are treated unjustly when it comes to their rights as parents, and far too many families are broken apart by outdated and discriminatory practices.

Discrimination in the Workplace – Has It Happened to You?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is taking up a troubling employer discrimination lawsuit. Jason O’Dell of Maryland applied for work as a lab technician through a major national employment agency. The opportunity seemed promising, but shortly after disclosing his Asperger’s diagnosis, the lawsuit states that Jason was told that the position was “on hold.” But the agency allegedly kept on recruiting to fill the job.

So the federal government stepped in and slapped a lawsuit against the firm, called Randstad. Since this is a huge, national employment agency, The Arc wants to know – has anyone out there had a similar experience with the company? We can’t allow discrimination like this to be tolerated.

Share your story with us in the comments, or email Kristen Bossi at bossi@thearc.org.

Have You Experienced Disability-Based Discrimination at a QuikTrip Facility?

Do you know anyone that may have experienced disability-based discrimination at a QuikTrip facility and wants to file a claim?

In early July, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against QuikTrip Corporation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging that the company had discriminated against individuals with disabilities at QuikTrip gas stations, convenience stores, truck stops, and travel centers. The company owns and operates more than 550 such facilities throughout the Southeastern, Southwestern, Midwestern, and Southern regions of the United States.

A Consent Decree with the lawsuit, United States v. QuikTrip Corporation, was approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska Court on July 19, 2010 establishing a $1.5 million fund to compensate individuals who experienced discrimination at QuikTrip.

Help spread the word about the fund’s existence to anyone who may have experienced disability-based discrimination at a QuikTrip facility and wants to file a claim. The time period for filing a claim is approximately 180 days from July 19, 2010.

Payment eligibility and the amount of any payment will be made by the U.S. Department of Justice after all claims have been received.

Please visit this link for more information.