The Meeker Housing Authority recently settled a discrimination lawsuit for $1 million.
A lawsuit was recently settled between the Meeker Housing Authority and 22-year-old A.J. White for $1 million. The suit was originally filed on behalf of White over allegations he was discriminated against for owning emotional support animals. According to the suit, White suffers from depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and his two cats, Haimm and Genki, are his emotional support animals meant to help him through his mental illnesses.
The lawsuit reached a $1 million settlement earlier this month when a judge ruled it “had discriminated against tenants who own” emotional support animals. White filed his suit a few years back after the Meeker Housing Authority announced it would “require a $300 fee per emotional support animal.” It’s important to note that, at the time, “the rent was $125 a month for the apartment A.J. shared with his dad, Lonnie.”
White isn’t the only one that had a problem with the steep emotional support animal fee. Another former resident, Megan McFadden, challenged the policy and took her complaints to Meeker Housing Authority director, Stacie Kincher. During a meeting, McFadden allegedly told Kincher that she can’t legally charge such a fee, to which Kincher said, “For a therapy animal we can. For a service animal –…” McFadden allegedly cut her off and said, “an emotional support animal is considered a service animal.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, McFadden was told Kincher would “talk to the housing board,” and added that she already knew what the board would say. She said, “You’re going to have to take us to court.” So, McFadden joined White and sued the Meeker Housing Authority for “violating the Fair Housing Act, which requires reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities,” including mental health disabilities.
When commenting on the case, Siddhartha Rathod, the attorney for White and McFadden, said the animals were a “fundamental, constitutional right.” He added, “This is not about three plaintiffs, two cats, and a dog. It’s about how we treat our disabled community. It’s about how we treat the least among us.”
Fortunately for White and McFadden, a federal judge agreed that the “renters had been treated unfairly, saying they needed their animals to live as a non-disabled person would.”
Unfortunately, cases like the one White and McFadden experienced are becoming more and more common. According to Amanda Arrington of the Humane Society, the “language around disability in the Fair Housing Act is pretty vague and really is open for however an individual, an organization, an agency wants to interpret it.”
Additionally, more and more people are beginning to use emotional support animals. According to Arrington, “more residents in subsidized housing are asserting their right to own them and more housing agencies are setting limits on them.” She said:
“We still are struggling in this country around a lot of fair housing issues. So when you add pets into the mix, I think we still have a long way to go to get to a place where people are protected and their animals, as well.”