Residents are Not Owed Preferred Accommodations for Disability

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Facts

In May of 2016 the Association implemented a rule that allowed owners to bring furniture to the pool area for their use “but they must remove these items daily when they leave the pool area.”  Unit Owner claimed he needed a reasonable accommodation to leave his orthopedic lounge charge at the pool for medical reasons.  The Association initially allowed the chair to be left at the pool, but also requested further clarification of the request, specifically seeking: 1) a doctor’s recommendation that the chair was medically necessary for the owner’s physical disability, 2) confirmation that the chair he was using was in fact an orthopedic lounge chair, and 3) the weight of the chair.  The unit owner submitted three doctor letters:

  • Doctor 1 stated the Unit Owner’s “disability required the “use of an appropriate chair to accommodate his disability.”
  • Doctor 2 stated that he recommended that the Unit Owner “use an orthopedic lounge chair for his neck and back issues and also that he not lift ‘equipment or materials over 15 pounds.’”
  • Doctor 3 stated that the Unit Owner’s “anti-gravity chair helps his prostate condition.”

The Association took the position that the doctor letters did not clearly address the Unit Owner’s situation or the need for a certain type of chair, and then rescinded the initial accommodation.  The Association did state that it would reconsider the matter if the Unit Owner submitted all requested documents.

Lawsuit

The Unit Owner filed a claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (the “Department”) alleging discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act (the “Act”).

Department Decision

The Department dismissed the claim for lack of jurisdiction and lack of evidence supporting the claims, finding that “no evidence showed that leaving the chair at the pool overnight was necessary to alleviate symptoms of his disability.”  Unit Owner appealed the decision to the Illinois Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”).

Commission Decision

The Commission affirmed the Department decision dismissing the Unit Owner’s claim of discrimination based on the lack of substantial evidence to support the charge.  Unit Owner appealed the decision to the Illinois Appeals Court (the “Court”).

Court Decision

The Court affirmed the decision of the Commission, holding:

  1. The Act prohibits various types of discrimination;
  2. It is a civil rights violation under the Act “to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling”;
  3. The Act requires more than a scintilla of evidence to support a claim;
  4. The Act “requires only those accommodations that ameliorate the effects of complainant’s disability so that he is not disadvantaged by reason of disability, not of what he has in common with other people”;
  5. None of the doctor letters required that the Unit Owner leave his chair by the pool overnight to alleviate his disability symptoms;
  6. Leaving the chair overnight at the pool was “unconnected to alleviating any disability symptoms”; and
  7. Although the Unit Owner claimed he was unable to carry the chair back and forth daily, “no evidence supports that claim.”
LESSONS:
  1. Although the Association won all of the decisions, I can’t help but wonder at what cost to all of the members. If you asked the members after the fact if it was worth the money spent, I would hope that the answer would be “yes” because, as we all know, once you allow one person to abuse the system, others will follow.
  2. Make sure that you have a process in place for all reasonable accommodation requests and then follow your process. If something takes place that is outside of the process, it is a good idea to not say “no” while you are investigating.  So just like the association in this case, provide tentative approval and then seek the remaining documents.

Spiegel v. The Illinois Human Rights Commission, No. 1-19-2303 (Ill. App. Ct. Aug. 12, 2021)

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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