Fort Lewis Families Accuse Base Housing Provider Of Discrimination
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 11, 2004
TACOMA, WASHINGTON--Four legal firms have joined seven Fort Lewis families in a federal suit accusing an on-base housing provider of discriminating against them because they have family members with disabilities.
The families are seeking class action status in the suit filed in U.S. District Court Monday against Equity, a corporation that was granted the contract with the U.S. Army in 2000 to replace, repair and manage base housing at Fort Lewis. The case could have wide-ranging implications because Equity and its partners, the largest owners and managers of residential properties in the country, provide rental housing at more than 20 other military bases and sites.
The plaintiffs claim that Equity violated the Fair Housing Act, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and other federal and state anti-discrimination laws. The suit seeks unspecified damages but demands immediate changes be made to the company's policies and procedures.
According to a statement by Disability Rights Advocates, a California-based non-profit law firm representing the families, Equity failed to make reasonable accommodations to housing units as requested, asked unlawful questions about individuals' disabilities, refused to rent to families with members that have disabilities, and harassed and intimidated individuals with disabilities.
"What they're asking for is something any tenant would regard as a very modest request and ought to be allowed," said Sid Wolinsky, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates.
The suit also accuses Equity of retaliating against families for requesting accommodations, including several instances where the company allegedly complained to a soldier's chain of command, thereby threatening the soldier's position and career in the Army.
"It is outrageous that Equity is discriminating against military families with disabled family members at a time when so many of them have sent soldiers to risk their lives fighting in Iraq," said Victoria Ni, a staff attorney with Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a Washington, DC national public interest law firm involved in the case.
The Army reports that 13 percent of military families at Fort Lewis -- or about 3000 people -- have at least one member with a disability, the second highest of any Army base.
A company spokesman denied the claims, saying Equity is proud of its record of accommodating people with disabilities at Fort Lewis and its other properties.
"Fort Lewis families sue over housing" (Seattle Times)
Disability Rights Advocates