San Jose woman wins $126,000 over broken elevator

A pattern and practice lawsuit of unlawful housing discrimination against disabled persons in San Jose settled for $126,000 in January 1994. The lawsuit was brought by Lethia Hayes, a physically disabled resident of the Cypress Park Apartments, who used a heavy wheelchair and who could only access her apartment by using the apartment elevator.

A federal judge in California's Northern District approved the settlement. The settlement is said to be the second-largest in the country for alleged discrimination against a handicapped person in housing.

The elevator was often broken, making access extremely inconvenient. She claimed that, because she used a wheelchair, the only time she was able to get in and out of the apartment was when her husband could take her down the stairs.

The plaintiff repeatedly notified the defendants of the condition of the elevator and asked them to repair it, but the defendants, Summerwood Investments, Northwest II Investments and Pacific Properties refused to make repairs. Hayes' husband worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift at a newspaper. Hayes claimed that she had to go with her husband to his job and wait for him to get off work before she could go back home. The apartment landlord's solution, according to Hayes' complaint, was to have her call the maintenance man to help her down the stairs.

The settlement stated that as a result of such negligence the defendants are required to request an inspection of the eight elevators on the premises. They must make any repairs recommended from the inspection and notify old and new tenants of where they could locate management for assistance with the elevators.

The Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara County will monitor these activities. The defendants will also be required to attend a fair housing training. The case was handled by fair housing attorney Chris Brancart.

[Hayes v. Summerwood Investments, No. C92-20056-RMW (PVT) (N.D. Calif. 1-19-94)]