Lawrence City Commission to consider settlement in housing discrimination lawsuit involving emotional-support dog
photo by: Chris Conde
City leaders will soon review a proposed settlement in a housing discrimination lawsuit against local landlords that requires the landlords to attend a seminar on housing laws and make a donation to a local nonprofit.
The lawsuit, brought against the landlords by the City of Lawrence in 2016, claims that the landlords discriminated against a prospective tenant based on his use of an emotional-support dog. The Lawrence City Commission, as part of its meeting Tuesday, will consider approving a settlement agreement resolving the lawsuit.
The city claims that the landlords, Lyndon and Kathi Mullis, of KanMar Management, discriminated against Christopher Evans — whom the city identified in the lawsuit as a veteran with a mental disability — based on his disability and his use of an emotional-support dog. At issue was whether the landlords violated a local ordinance and federal fair housing law when they allegedly turned Evans away based on their pet policy for Ashbury Townhomes, 925 E. 14th St. The landlords denied the city’s claim and alleged in return that the city failed to establish that Evans has a disability covered by the Fair Housing Act and other housing discrimination regulations, among other claims.
The proposed settlement agreement calls for dismissal of all claims without acknowledgment of liability by either party and it has nine provisions. The settlement requires the landlords to make a $1,000 donation to Independence Inc., a local nonprofit organization that provides support services for people with disabilities. The landlords will also pay the costs of presenting a daylong public seminar regarding federal, state and local housing rules and regulations.
The settlement requires the city to provide the venue for the seminar and be responsible for advertising the seminar. The landlords must attend the seminar and agree to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act and all other federal, state and city laws and regulations that prohibit housing discrimination.
The settlement calls for each party to pay their own attorneys’ fees and half of the fee for mediation. The city paid its share of the mediator’s fee in the amount of $1,098, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The memo states that the city has paid $43,488 in attorneys’ fees to date.
Judge Kay Huff, who is presiding over the lawsuit, recently ordered mediation in the case and a trial date was set in the event that mediation was unsuccessful. The parties met with a court-designated mediator on March 21 and after “several hours of mediation” agreed to the terms in the proposed settlement, according to the memo.
The original lawsuit was filed Nov. 8, 2016, in Douglas County District Court by the City of Lawrence Human Relations Commission, and seeks damages of more than $75,000, as well as reimbursement of court costs and attorney fees. The subsequent counterclaim filed by the landlords claims an abuse of process by the city and seeks $50,000 of damages, as well as reimbursement of other costs and attorney fees.
The city’s nine-member Human Relations Commission has the ability to investigate, rule upon and resolve discrimination complaints, and the lawsuit states that conciliation efforts to resolve Evans’ dispute were attempted but failed.
The Lawrence City Commission is scheduled to consider the proposed settlement agreement as part of its consent agenda Tuesday. The commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.