United States Resolves Allegations of Disability Discrimination at Bethlehem Senior Housing Complex
(STL.News) – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced today that the United States has reached a settlement agreement to resolve allegations of disability discrimination filed in a civil lawsuit against Heritage Senior Living LLC, its owner, and former owner. The complaint alleges that Traditions of Hanover, an apartment complex for seniors located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, discriminated against residents and prospective residents based on disability in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.
According to the complaint, since at least 2013, Traditions of Hanover required residents to be able to “live independently” as a condition of their lease. In doing so, the apartment complex allegedly decided who could live independently, rather than allowing residents and their families to decide for themselves. Traditions of Hanover allegedly reserved its right to assess residents’ physical health, and to terminate leases based on health condition. The apartment complex also allegedly screened prospective residents to determine if they were appropriate to live in the building based on their health condition.
In addition, Traditions of Hanover allegedly charged residents a fee to use motorized wheelchairs, prohibited residents from using wheelchairs in the common dining area, and, before 2013, offered transportation services that were not accessible to wheelchair users.
The United States and defendants have reached a settlement to resolve the case through a consent order. Under the order, defendants must establish a tiered settlement fund of up to $325,000 to compensate persons harmed by the policies and practices, as well as pay a penalty of $55,000. The United States and defendants adjusted the deadlines in the consent order to accommodate concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides the monetary payments, the consent order requires defendants to modify their policies, appoint a compliance officer, train employees about the Fair Housing Act, and provide periodic compliance reports to the United States. These requirements apply to 16 different facilities managed by Heritage Senior Living, including one in Bucks County (The Birches at Newtown); four in Berks County (Keystone Villa at Douglassville, The Manor at Market Square in Reading, Chestnut Knoll in Boyertown, and Keystone Villa at Fleetwood); and one in Montgomery County (The Birches at Harleysville). The consent order prohibits defendants from raising rent or fees to pay for any of these obligations, or to pay for the settlement fund.
“Seniors should not have to worry about losing their lease simply because they become disabled,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “The Fair Housing Act protects them, and everyone, from discrimination in housing, and my Office will continue to ensure that apartment buildings follow the law.”
“Discriminating against people with disabilities is wrong and illegal, and the Justice Department will vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act to combat this unlawful conduct and obtain relief for its victims,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “This consent order will ensure that all prospective and current residents at Traditions and other senior living facilities are treated equally and that victims of past discrimination receive compensation for the harms they have suffered.”