A federal Fair Housing Act lawsuit recently filed by the U.S. Justice Department against a large Dallas-based construction and development company and a series of its other releases signal that Department of Justice is gearing up for stepped up enforcement of the Public Accommodations and other provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. To defend against this risk, all U.S. businesses should evaluate the adequacy of their existing business practices.
On Tuesday, March 10, 2009, JPI Construction L.P. (JPI) and six JPI-affiliated companies in U.S. District Court in Dallas for failing to provide accessible features allegedly required by the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act at multi-family housing developments in Texas and other states. Today, the Justice Department followed up by
The Justice Department’s proclamation in its announcement of its filing of the suit against JPI that “Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority” affirms this commitment under the Fair Housing Act. See “Justice Department Sues Large Multi-Family Housing Developer Alleging Disability-Based Housing Discrimination, U.S. Justice Department (March 10, 2009) at http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/March/09-crt-187.html. According to the complaint, the JPI defendants failed to design and construct accessible dwelling units and public and common use areas at Jefferson Center Apartments in Austin, Texas; Jefferson at Mission Gate Apartments in Plano, Texas; and additional multi-family housing complexes in other states. The complaint alleges certain complexes designed and constructed by the JPI defendants have inaccessible steps and curbs leading to units, steeply sloped routes leading to units, and no accessible routes to site amenities, including inaccessible trash facilities, barbeque grills and cookout tables. In addition, certain housing units have narrow doors and hallways; kitchens that lack accessible clear floor space at the sinks, ranges and refrigerators; bathrooms that lack accessible clear floor space at the toilets and tubs; and thermostats that are mounted too high to be accessible to a person using a wheelchair. The Justice Department complaint asks the court to order monetary damages to victims of the alleged discrimination, to issue a court order requiring the defendants to modify the complexes to bring them into compliance with federal law, to prohibit future discrimination by the JPI defendants, and to assess civil penalties.