Unique Settlement Improves Housing and Access for Disabled Family Residents at Fort Lewis Army Base

Oakland, CA – September 28, 2005 – Plaintiffs and Defendants announced today that they reached a settlement agreement that will improve access for soldiers and their family members with disabilities to housing and access at Fort Lewis in Washington, the West Coast headquarters of the U.S. Army.

Plaintiffs in this case are seven families stationed at Fort Lewis that have at least one family member with a disability.  Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates, a national non-profit law firm headquartered in Oakland, California; the Washington firm of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Withey & Coluccio, a nationally-recognized plaintiff’s firm specializing in personal injury litigation; Brancart & Brancart, P.C., a leading fair-housing law firm based in California; and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a national public interest law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. with an office in Oakland, CA.  Defendants include Equity Residential and EQR/Lincoln Fort Lewis Communities LLC, and Equity Residential Properties Management Corp.  Defendants are represented by Preston Gates & Ellis LLP.

Under the settlement, Equity agreed to make 10% of all housing units at Fort Lewis accessible to residents with disabilities and to make newly constructed housing and existing and newly constructed sidewalks, parks, and playgrounds at Fort Lewis accessible to people with disabilities.  In addition, Equity agreed to modify its practices and policies by implementing a new, negotiated, streamlined procedure regarding requests by residents with disabilities for reasonable housing accommodations.

“This settlement will improve access to housing and public areas for the significant population of residents with disabilities at Fort Lewis,” says Roger Heller, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.  “We hope that this settlement will provide a model for how military bases around the country should protect the rights of people with disabilities.”

The lawsuit, Parents Against Disability Discrimination, et al. v. Equity Residential, et al., Case No. C04-5267 RBL, which was filed in federal court in Tacoma, WA in April 2004, alleged that defendants, through housing policies and practices, discriminated against persons with disabilities in violation of federal and state laws.  Defendants denied that they discriminated against persons with disabilities and further denied that they violated federal or state laws..

“This settlement will improve the day-to-day lives of the many soldiers and family members with disabilities at Fort Lewis,” said Summer Krook, one of the plaintiffs in the case and a founder of Parents Against Disability Discrimination, which is also a plaintiff in the case.  “We hope that this settlement will serve as a model for improving accessibility for people with disabilities at military bases around the country and abroad.”

The settlement agreement includes provisions for training FLC staff regarding disability rights, reporting by FLC and monitoring by a neutral implementation coordinator and by Plaintiffs’ attorneys.  Moreover, the Army’s Exceptional Family Member Program, which works with other military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated community support, housing, and educational, medical, and personnel services to families with special needs, will provide guidance to Fort Lewis residents regarding the terms of the settlement agreement and all other on-base disability rights issues.

Agreed improvements can be found within the Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U).

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