By Paul A. Ferrer, J.D.
The Eleventh Circuit noted its disagreement with the Second Circuit in concluding that a necessary accommodation alleviates the effects of handicaps, which may include an economic disadvantage correlated with a particular handicap.
In reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Habitat for Humanity of Citrus County on the plaintiff’s claim that Habitat failed to accommodate his request that he be permitted to meet Habitat’s minimum-gross-annual-income requirement through sources other than wages earned, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the proper question was whether the plaintiff’s inability to meet the requirement through W-2 wages was a causal effect of his disability. The Eleventh Circuit remanded to the district court to consider that question, as well as whether Habitat could show that granting the requested accommodation would nonetheless result in an undue burden on, or fundamental alteration to, Habitat’s program. However, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the plaintiff failed to state a valid disparate-impact claim against Habitat (Schaw v. Habitat for Humanity of Citrus County, Inc., Sept. 18, 2019, Newsom, K.).
Schaw, a quadriplegic, applied for a home with Habitat. Habitat required that applicants have a minimum annual gross income of $10,170, so that potential homeowners would be able to pay their mortgages. But, Schaw alleged, his disability prevented him from working, so his gross annual income was only $9,336, based on his Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) stipend of $778 per month. Schaw asked that Habitat consider two other sources of income---$194 per month in food stamps or $100 per month from his father---either of which would have been enough to qualify under Habitat’s threshold. When Habitat rejected Schaw’s application, he sued under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, asserting two claims.
Failure to accommodate. First, Schaw claimed that Habitat failed to make a reasonable accommodation in its program, when such accommodation was necessary to afford him a reasonable opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. The Eleventh Circuit initially concluded that the accommodation requested by Schaw—that Habitat accept food stamps or familial support toward its minimum-income requirement in lieu of ordinary wages—was facially reasonable. As such, it was Habitat’s burden to demonstrate that the accommodation constituted an undue burden on, or fundamental alteration to, its program. The Eleventh Circuit remanded to the district court to consider that issue, which had not been addressed below.
The Eleventh Circuit also directed the district court on remand to consider whether the requested accommodation was necessary to afford Schaw a reasonable opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. While the district court had found, as a matter of law, that the accommodation was not necessary because it would alleviate only his financial condition, and not his disability, the Eleventh Circuit disagreed, holding that a necessary accommodation is one that alleviates not handicaps per se, but rather the effects of those handicaps. The effects of Schaw’s quadriplegia might include his inability to work and thus meet the minimum-income requirement through wages earned, but that question had not been considered below, so the Eleventh Circuit remanded for the district court to consider that question as well.
Disparate impact. Second, Schaw asserted that Habitat’s minimum-income requirement has a disparate impact on applicants receiving SSDI. Here, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court that Schaw had failed to state a valid claim because he failed to provide any evidence to prove that Habitat’s requirements disproportionately exclude those receiving SSDI as compared with able-bodied individuals making the same amount of money from non-SSDI sources.
The case is No. 17-13960.
Attorneys: Lisa Charli Goodman (Hickey Law Firm, PA) for Albert Schaw. Robert Houston Mclean (Bice Cole Law Firm, PL) for Habitat for Humanity of Citrus County, Inc.
Companies: Habitat for Humanity of Citrus County, Inc.
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