Fish & Richardson announced today 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). The case set an important legal precedent stating 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 handled the case pro bono and is donating its share of the fee award to the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.
The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley filed the case in April 2014 and Fish joined as co-counsel in September 2015. 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. The Court held that if the HACSC had adopted such a blanket policy, it would violate several federal and state anti-discrimination 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.
However, the question of whether or not the HACSC had in fact adopted such a blanket policy was left unresolved. A settlement was reached on the eve of trial, requiring the HACSC to change its policies regarding reasonable accommodation requests for persons with disabilities through an amended “Administrative Plan.” 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.
“We are thrilled with the outcome of this case and hope that the financial settlement and amended Administrative Plan will help these individuals and their families feel more stable and secure in their homes, and in their futures,” said Jon Lamberson, a principal at Fish & Richardson who served as lead counsel for Fish on the case.
The 180 disabled individuals in the lawsuit will each receive between $916 and $25,406 in damages based on how HACSC’s discriminatory practices impacted their subsidy disbursements. The settlement also provides for $695,560 in emotional distress damages for class members who experienced homelessness as a result of the discrimination. Each of the five named plaintiffs in the lawsuit was awarded $10,000 for the substantial time they devoted to the case. Significantly, these named plaintiffs risked retaliation by participating in the lawsuit because HACSC had the power to reduce their subsidies or otherwise adversely affect their living situations. As the judge noted, this was an even more serious threat than the potential for workplace retaliation typically found in class action litigation.
“Fish was very thorough and detailed in calculating damages for each class member, which provided a strong rationale for substantial monetary damages,” said Kyra Kazantzis, directing attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. “They addressed not only the impact of discrimination against disabled persons in allocating housing funds, but also addressed the effects on those who became homeless. We couldn’t have accomplished this settlement without them.”
Kyra Kazantzis led a team from the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley that included Nadia Aziz, Kara Brodfuehrer, Annette Kirkham, Melissa Morris, Thomas Zito, Judy Wong, and Matthew Warren.
In addition to Jon Lamberson, the Fish team included principal Michael Headley and associates Bryan Basso and Alana Mannigé. Since 2015, Fish has dedicated nearly 2,000 pro bono hours to the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, handling multiple litigation matters and participating regularly in its pro bono eviction clinic.
The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley advances the rights of under-represented individuals and families in its diverse community through legal services, strategic advocacy, and educational outreach.