California PHA to Pay $3.2M in Housing Discrimination Class Action Case

Fish & Richardson recently announced that together with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, it has helped win a $3.2 million award in a housing discrimination class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 180 disabled individuals against the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara (HACSC).

According to Fish, the case set an important legal precedent that housing authorities cannot adopt a blanket policy considering a living room as a bedroom when reviewing a reasonable accommodation request for an extra bedroom for a disabled household member. The court also awarded $712,500 in attorney’s fees and costs. Fish, which handled the case pro bono, said it would donate its share of the fee award to the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

The lawsuit alleged that HACSC had adopted a blanket policy whereby anyone who asked for a reasonable accommodation for an extra room for a disabled household member was told to use the living room as a sleeping area. In a 2016 ruling, the court held that if the HACSC had adopted such a blanket policy, it would violate several federal and state antidiscrimination statutes, including the Fair Housing Amendments Act, the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Disabled Persons Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nevertheless, the question of whether the HACSC had in fact adopted such a blanket policy was left unresolved.

On the eve of trial, the parties reached a settlement requiring the HACSC to change its policies regarding reasonable accommodation requests for persons with disabilities through an amended “Administrative Plan,” according to Fish. Under this plan, when considering a request for reasonable accommodation for an additional bedroom that results in an adjustment to a household’s subsidy size, HACSC will not consider the living room as a bedroom. HACSC also agreed to review the files of all class members to determine whether each member’s file reflected a current, disability-related need for an additional bedroom, and take appropriate action.

Fish reported that the 180 disabled individuals in the lawsuit will each receive between $916 and $25,406 in damages based on how HACSC’s alleged discriminatory practices impacted their subsidy disbursements. The settlement also provides for $695,560 in emotional distress damages for class members who experienced homelessness. Each of the five named plaintiffs in the lawsuit was awarded $10,000 for the substantial time they devoted to the case.