Tourette's Sufferer Receives $385,000 Payment to Settle Housing Discrimination Case

Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.
August 17, 2000
CONTACT: Ross B. Bricker, Attorney, Jenner & Block (312) 923-4524
Nina E. Vinik, Fair Housing Project Director, Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., (312) 630-9744

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. announced today that a settlement has been reached in the highly publicized Fair Housing Act lawsuit filed on behalf of Tourette's Syndrome sufferer Jeffrey Marthon and his wife Maureen Kilty against the Maple Grove Condominium Association in Downers Grove, Illinois and the condominium property manager, Alpha Property Management, Inc. of Carol Stream, Illinois.

Under the general terms of the settlement, the Condominium Association and Property Manager agree immediately to pay $310,000 to Mr. Marthon, Ms. Kilty and their attorneys, and to take measures to prevent and eradicate discrimination against any current or future resident at Maple Grove or any property managed by Alpha on the basis of the individual's actual or perceived disability. The defendants also agreed to pay an additional $75,000 to Mr. Marthon and Ms. Kilty, who have expressed an interest in moving from Maple Grove, if efforts to secure a buyer for the condominium are unsuccessful.

Tourette's Syndrome is an inherited, neurological condition that causes a person to make involuntary muscle movements and vocal sounds, called “tics.” Mr. Marthon, who was diagnosed with Tourette's as a child, has lived with his wife in a condominium at Maple Grove since 1986. In the fall of 1998, after the then acting President of the Condominium Association's Board moved into the unit directly above the Marthons and began complaining about Mr. Marthon, the Board threatened Mr. Marthon and Ms. Kilty with fines and the possibility of eviction if the tics continued. The Board ultimately sent the Marthons a letter terminating their rights as unit owners at Maple Grove and filed a lawsuit in DuPage County to evict them on the ground that Mr. Marthon's Tourette's constituted a “nuisance” to other residents.

Working on a pro bono basis, lawyers from the Chicago law firm of Jenner & Block, in cooperation with the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., filed suit in 1999 under the federal Fair Housing Act on behalf of the Marthons. The suit alleged that the actions of the Condominium Association and Property Manager violated the 1988 amendments to the Fair Housing Act, which protect people with disabilities from discrimination in housing.

In July of 1999, during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur, attorneys Ross Bricker and Eric Sacks of Jenner & Block presented compelling evidence of the defendants' discrimination, threats and intimidation toward the Marthons. It included a suggestion by one Condominium Association Board member that Mr. Marthon leave the building and live separately from his wife of 13 years. There was also testimony by another Board member who stated that Mr. Marthon should “go around with pillows on his feet and a gag in his mouth,” and that all persons with Tourette's should be “put in an institution.”

Faced with this evidence, the defendants agreed to the Marthons' request for a preliminary injunction, and Judge Shadur entered an order barring the defendants from taking any action to disturb, disrupt, remove, evict or diminish in any way the Marthons' use and enjoyment of their condominium. That order remained in effect while the suit proceeded. In agreeing to the settlement, the defendants admit no wrongdoing.

“This settlement sends a powerful message,” said Nina Vinik of the Chicago Lawyers'Committee, “that discrimination against people with disabilities carries a steep price. The law protects the Marthons and others like him from the insensitive and ignorant actions of condominium boards and property managers. The Marthons are caring and considerate people who have suffered greatly throughout this ordeal. This settlement allows them to get on with being good neighbors, in housing of their own choosing.”

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. is a public interest law consortium of Chicago's finest law firms. It has 44 members, comprising 4,000 lawyers who are available to assist poor, minority and disadvantaged people in both litigation and transactional work. In 1999, this contribution exceeded $3 million worth of pro bono legal services.