Claudio and Luz Trujillo and their nine-year old son Jaime, who has severe physical and developmental disabilities, sued the Association and its President after they vigorously enforced a policy forbidding wheelchair users from entering the building through the front entrance and forcing them to use the service entrance. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers, including condominium associations, from discriminating “against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of a handicap.” The Association’s actions were analogous to requiring African-Americans to sit at the back of buses or use separate drinking fountains. In this case, the Association’s President threatened to fine the Trujillo family and have the front door blocked if their son tried to use it.
“This consent decree is an important victory for the civil rights of people with disabilities,” said Karen Tamley, Director of Programs of Access Living, whose staff lawyers filed the case for the Trujillos. “The Fair Housing Act targets not only physical barriers but also barriers that arise out of prejudice. When a building policy mandates separate – and in this case unequal – facilities for individuals with disabilities, it violates our civil rights.” She added, “It is testament to the need for vigorous civil rights enforcement that in 2004, such blatant and hurtful discrimination still occurs.”
Under the decree, The Association and its President admit that they violated the Act. The Association has eliminated the discriminatory prohibition on use of the front door by persons in wheelchairs. In addition, the Association will issue a formal letter of apology to the Trujillos and will pay $83,500 in damages to the Trujillos and the wife of another victim of this discrimination, attorneys’ fees and costs, and civil penalties to the federal government. Finally, the decree mandates that the Association President retire permanently from the Board of Directors.
Before the Trujillos moved into the Triumvera Tower, the Association told the Trujillos the Association, under a written rule, forbad furniture, strollers and wheelchairs from entering through the front doors. Mr. Trujillo found that it was problematic for his son to use the service entrance because the door was barely wide enough for his son’s wheelchair. The Trujillos also found it objectionable that their son had to use the service entrance solely because of his disabilities, while all other residents could use the front entrance. The Trujillos began to use the front entrance, believing the Association would change or fail to enforce such an objectionable and inexplicable policy.
To the contrary, the Trujillos received a letter in February of 2004 asking them to use the service entrance. When they continued to have Jaime use the front entrance, the Association President ordered the maintenance staff to block the entrance and threatened to fine the Trujillos $50 each time Jaime used the front door.
Ms. Tamley said, “This settlement will serve as a tool for all people with disabilities to enforce their civil rights in housing. We hope that it also triggers a new commitment on the part of condominium and homeowners’ associations, as well as property managers, to comply with fair housing laws.”
Governed and staffed by a majority of people with disabilities, Access Living is Chicago’s only center for independent living and works toward the full equality, inclusion and empowerment of all people with disabilities. For more information, contact Gary Arnold, Access Living, at 312.253.7000 ext 199 or 312.253.7002 (tty).