A national assisted living operator has agreed to pay $185,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that it discriminated against deaf and hard-of-hearing prospective residents by not providing American Sign Language interpreters when requested at some of its New York communities, the New York City-focused Fair Housing Justice Center announced.

The center initially had filed the lawsuit in November 2015 after an eight-month investigation, naming as defendants Louisville, KY-based Atria Senior Living; Atria Riverdale in the Bronx, NY; and Atria South Setauket in South Setauket, NY. Also named were three nursing home operators, each of which settled separately. Combined, the entities’ settlements totaled $495,000.

“We voluntarily resolved the case at an early stage so we can continue to focus on providing the best experience in senior living,” Atria representatives said in a statement to McKnight’s Senior Living. “We take great pride in serving our residents, including those with hearing impairments and other disabilities.”

In settling the complaint in mid-October, Atria denied any wrongdoing and did not admit any liability.

“We are very pleased that the defendants in this case agreed to negotiate a resolution to ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing populations have access to assisted living and nursing home facilities,” Fred Freiberg, executive director of the FHJC, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “This resolution ensures that more aging deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals will be welcomed, included and provided full and equal access to housing and vital healthcare services in the New York City region.”

In addition to monetary relief, Atria agreed to:

  • Provide a reasonable accommodation to enable residents to obtain auxiliary services, including sign language interpreters;
  • Update community signage and corporate and community websites, admissions applications, sales brochures and residency agreements to inform prospective residents and residents of compliance with fair housing laws and the availability of auxiliary services such as sign language interpreters;
  • Train key facility staff members on the legal rights of deaf people under fair housing and other civil rights laws, as well as on sensitivity issues and best practices for working with those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing (the FHJC said that it will work with the National Association of the Deaf to provide a training program); and
  • Maintain and make available specific records for review by the FHJC to document efforts made to comply with the terms of the settlement.

In addition to the two assisted living communities named in the lawsuit, the terms of Atria’s settlement also apply to 14 additional Atria communities within the New York metropolitan area and within the jurisdiction of the court.

“Atria has already begun meeting its obligations under the agreement and will continue to comply with the terms and timelines contained in the agreement,” company representatives said.

The three nursing home operators that settled with the FHJC include Archcare/Catholic Managed Long Term Care Inc., Elant and Jewish Home Lifecare. They have a combined eight facilities affected by similar settlement agreements.

The FHJC said it plans to use a portion of the settlement funds to produce and distribute a video on the fair housing rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing residents of assisted living communities and nursing homes.