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ECBA Files Federal Lawsuit Alleging Shocking Abuse in Bronx Group Home

This morning, three families filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court alleging severe and pervasive abuse of disabled residents in a New York State group home called the Union Avenue IRA.  According to New York State’s own Justice Center, staff gave disabled residents black eyes, punched them, pulled their hair, spit on them, shoved and punched them, kicked them, smashed their heads into walls, denied them food, and botched their medical care.  The lawsuit also alleges that high-level State officials knew about the alleged abuse, but did nothing to stop it for months.

Staff refer to the group home as the “Bronx Zoo.”  It is not known how many of these New York State employees still work for the State or with the disabled.

“It’s revolting, appalling, inhuman,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel, and a lawyer at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.  “This case represents a complete breakdown in hiring, training, investigation, discipline, and oversight.  We call on Governor Cuomo and the Bronx District Attorney to get justice for these families, and to make sure no disabled person is abused in a New York State group home ever again.”

“Even by the standards of New York’s notorious system of care for disabled people, this case stands out as one of the most repugnant,” said David Lebowitz, another attorney for the residents’ families.  “This is not a case of one or two bad apples, but an entrenched culture of cruelty tolerated by supervisors and State officials who turned their backs on vulnerable people in their care.”

Follow updates on the case here.

 

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Disability Housing Discrimination Case Settles for $1.3 million

A federal court has approved a $1.3 million settlement relating to the design and construction of two housing developments in Queens and Dutchess Counties, New York. The plaintiffs, a disabled woman who purchased a ground floor unit at the Queens site and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), alleged that the developers, architects, and site engineers failed to design and build the developments in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, rendering them inaccessible to residents and guests with physical disabilities.

Defendants will pay $900,000 for damages, attorneys’ fees, and retrofits to the individual plaintiff’s unit, driveway, and sidewalks.  Defendants will also retrofit ground floor units and certain common areas at the Dutchess County project at their expense and have future residential sites reviewed for compliance. In addition, the settlement provides $400,000 for the FHJC to use to provide financial assistance to income eligible homeowners and renters with physical disabilities seeking to make accessibility modifications to their existing housing, including unit owners at the Queens development.

Plaintiffs were represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Ali Frick, and by James E. Bahamonde of the Law Offices of James E. Bahamonde, P.C.

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$2.25 Million Settlement for Abuse of Disabled Adult in a New York State Facility

The family of K.C., a 22-year-old severely disabled man, settled a federal lawsuit in Albany against staff at the O.D. Heck Developmental Center, a New York State facility for the disabled. The lawsuit centered on the physical and verbal abuse K.C. suffered at the hands of the staff members. The abuse was first revealed by a whistleblower, who described K.C.’s horrific treatment in a sworn deposition. K.C. died in early 2011, after he was found to be severely malnourished. The family was represented by ECBA attorneys Ilann M. Maazel and Hayley Horowitz.

To read the New York Times coverage of the case, click here. To read the press release, click here.

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ECBA Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Mentally Disabled Rikers Inmate Beaten and Neglected by Correctional Officers

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, together with The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of Jose Guadalupe, a mentally disabled inmate, who was severely beaten by Rikers Island guards on September 2, 2014. The assault occurred after Mr. Guadelupe voiced his objection to guards ripping down family photos and magazine clippings from the walls of his cell. Even though Mr. Guadalupe was handcuffed and not a threat, the four officers responded by throwing Mr. Guadalupe to the ground, where they repeatedly punched him in the head and kicked him in the back, legs, and ribs. Following the beating, Mr. Guadalupe was left in a hot cell for nearly six hours, going in and out of consciousness, before he was finally transported to a nearby medical center where he was treated for injuries including a concussion, bruises to his ribs, facial swelling, lower back pain, dizziness, and cuts to his lip and right eyebrow. He was confined to a wheelchair for three weeks after the assault. Mr. Guadelupe is represented by ECBA attorneys Jonathan S. Abady and Zoe Salzman, along with Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project’s Jonathan S. Chasen and Mary Lynne Werlwas.

To read more, click here.

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ECBA files a federal lawsuit in Albany on behalf of a disabled woman raped by a fellow resident at a New York State group home

ECBA has filed a federal lawsuit in Albany on behalf of a disabled woman raped by a fellow resident at a New York State group home. The suit, against four employees of the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, alleges that staff turned a blind eye to the disabled woman’s prior complaints of sexual abuse and failed to take basic steps to protect her. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages. ECBA attorneys Ilann M. Maazel, Diane Houk, and Sam Shapiro filed the suit.

To read more click here. To read the Complaint, click here.

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ECBA Files Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Against National Housing Developer

Today, ECBA filed a disability discrimination lawsuit in federal court (S.D.N.Y) on behalf of Suzanne Vilchez, a paralyzed woman who uses a wheelchair, and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) against Yonkers-based AVR Realty and its engineering and architectural firms. The complaint alleges that the design and construction of AVR Realty’s Powell Cove Estates, a 220-unit condominium development in Queens County, New York and Overlook Pointe in Duchess County, New York are not accessible to persons with physical disabilities. The FHJC, who sent undercover testers to both sites, confirmed that the exterior and interior construction and design of the developments did not meet the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk and Matthew D. Brinckerhoff of ECBA and James E. Bahamonde of the Law Offices of James E. Bahamonde, P.C.

To read the complaint, click here.

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Judge Awards Attorneys’ Fees in HIV/AIDS Housing Discrimination Case

Federal District Court Judge Samuel Conti granted ECBA’s motion for attorneys’ fees in Short v. Manhattan Apts., et al., on June 10, 2013. The lawsuit, which alleged housing discrimination by Defendants Manhattan Apartments and Abba Realty culminated in a week-long bench trial in October 2012. The Court found that the defendants discriminated against prospective renters living with HIV/AIDS who received a housing subsidy from New York City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (“HASA”) and awarded damages to the individual plaintiff and the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), which conducted corroborative testing. The decision in this case was the first to find discrimination against a HASA client under a 2008 New York City law which prohibits housing discrimination based on lawful source of income.

Judge Conti awarded $507,031.65 in fees and costs to Plaintiffs’ attorneys, noting the significance of the case and the broad injunctive relief awarded. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk, of ECBA, along with co-counsel Armen Merjian and Robert Bacigalupi of Housing Works.

To read the decision, click here.

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ECBA Files Lawsuit Alleging Source of Income and Disability Discrimination at Lefrak City

Today, ECBA and co-counsel Housing Works, Inc. filed a housing discrimination lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a woman living with AIDS and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) against the Lefrak Organization, one of the nation’s largest landlords. The complaint alleges that Lefrak and one of its subsidiary companies discriminate on the basis of disability and source of income in the operation of the 5000-unit LeFrak City complex in Queens and other apartment buildings throughout New York City. Specifically, the complaint alleges that defendants operate physically separate and unequal rental offices, one for tenants who are employed and the other for tenants receiving government housing assistance, including New Yorkers living with AIDS and using a HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) rental subsidy. The FHJC sent undercover testers to Lefrak’s rental offices who confirmed the allegedly discriminatory practices and policies. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk of ECBA and Armen H. Merjian of Housing Works, Inc.

To read the complaint, click here.

 

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Judge Finds Two Real Estate Firms Discriminate Against Individuals with HIV/AIDS Housing Subsidy

Following a week-long bench trial in October, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti ruled in Short v. Manhattan Apts., Inc., et al. (SDNY) that two New York City realty companies, Manhattan Apartments, Inc., and Abba Realty Associates, Inc., discriminated against Plaintiff Keith Short because he received a housing subsidy from New York City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (“HASA”). The discrimination was corroborated by a testing investigation conducted by the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Co-Plaintiff in the case. Judge Conti’s decision found that both Manhattan Apartments, one of the largest realty companies in New York City, and Abba Realty “weeded out the HASA clients before they could submit an application,” in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law.

The decision is the first to find discrimination against a HASA client under Local Law 10, passed by the City Council in 2008 to prohibit housing discrimination based on lawful source of income. Compensatory damages were awarded to Mr. Short and the FHJC, and a three-year injunction was ordered by the court. In addition to prohibiting the defendants from continuing to discriminate on the basis of source of income, Manhattan Apartments and Abba Realty will be required to adopt non-discrimination policies and to undergo fair housing training.

The Plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk, of ECBA, along with co-counsel Armen Merjian and Robert Bacigalupi of Housing Works.

To read the decision, click here. To read the press release, click here.

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Judge Awards Sanctions in HIV/AIDS Housing Discrimination Case

Plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions against Manhattan Apartments in Short v. Manhattan Apts., et al., was granted by the Hon. Kimba Wood on October 11, 2012. The lawsuit alleges that Defendants Manhattan Apartments and Abba Realty discriminate on the basis of both disability and source of income. Ignoring repeated requests from the Plaintiffs and flouting multiple court orders, Defendant Manhattan Apartments refused to produce its rental listings database.

Judge Wood found that Manhattan Apartments “had a culpable state of mind in failing to produce the requested documents” and that it “acted with intentional bad faith.” Accordingly, the Court awarded attorneys’ fees to the Plaintiffs in the amount of $23,100 and designated the following fact: for the relevant time period, Manhattan Apartments’ rental listing database included directives from landlords that the company not assist clients with governmental housing subsidies in applying for or renting those landlords’ apartments.

Plaintiffs are represented by ECBA’s Diane L. Houk, along with co-counsel Armen Merjian and Robert Bacigalupi of Housing Works. In awarding attorneys’ fees, Judge Wood praised the “exceptionally high quality” of Plaintiffs’ counsel’s work, while citing their extensive experience and positive track records. Further, the decision takes note of the novel subject matter of the case, housing discrimination against individuals living with AIDS and using a rental subsidy provided by the City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (“HASA”).

To read the decision, click  here.

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