woman signing to a man

Multiple senior living operators are facing civil rights accommodation lawsuits for allegedly discriminating against prospective and current residents with hearing issues by failing to provide sign language interpreters for them.

The Fair Housing Center for Metropolitan Detroit filed suit on Sept. 24 in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, against St. Elizabeth Briarbank Home for the Aged and the Daughters of Divine Charity of Detroit in Bloomfield Hills, MI; Singh Senior Living, Waltonwood Management, Waltonwood at Lakeside and Waltonwood at Royal Oak; The Rivers of Grosse Pointe Holdings  in Grosse Pointe Woods, MI, CCLA Holdings, and DRSN Associations; Manor Senior Living and Hampton Manor of Shelby in Shelby Township, MI; and Sunrise Senior Living Management, Sunrise Senior Living Services, Sunrise of Shelby Township and Sunrise of Bloomfield Hills.

According to the suits, the FHCMD used “testers” posing as relatives of prospective residents to determine whether the senior living communities would supply an American Sign Language interpreter for a deaf resident.

Despite requests for “effective communications to ensure equal access to services,” the FHCMD alleges the communities would not provide interpreters, instead telling the “relatives” that they could provide and pay for an interpreter themselves or use written notes to communicate.

Those denials, the lawsuits allege, violate the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the Affordable Care Act, and Michigan’s Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act.

The suits seek financial relief and damages as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. The FHCMD also wants the communities to establish policies prohibiting future discrimination, establishing staff training, covering the posting of notices about the right to effective communication, and creating the ability to provide onsite interpreters moving forward.

The senior living operators named in the legal actions did not respond to requests for comment by McKnight’s Senior Living by the production deadline.

The lawsuits aren’t the only ones to have been filed against operators for not offering sign language interpreters. Earlier this year, a $162,500 settlement was announced with a provider under similar circumstances. That company had been part of a larger National Fair Housing Alliance effort against 16 senior living communities.

In 2018, three companies that operated more than two dozen assisted living and skilled nursing facilities in New York agreed to pay a total of $245,675 to settle a 2015 federal lawsuit that accused them of housing discrimination against deaf and hard-of-hearing residents and prospective residents.

Another 2018 lawsuit accused 14 Arizona senior living communities of discriminating against prospective residents who are deaf, based on undercover interactions with testers recruited by a fair housing organization.

Similar lawsuits against operators were settled in 2017 for $162,500 for $162,500 and in $185,000 for 2016.

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