Blind woman and roommate receive $25,000 settlement from Louisville complex

In December, the owners and managers of a Louisville apartment complex agreed to pay $25,000 to a blind woman, her roommate, and the Kentucky Fair Housing Council to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit.  The property owners also agreed to have all of their staff attend fair housing training within six months of the settlement date.

In February 1998, Raquel Kooima leased an apartment at Hawthorne Place Apartments in southwestern Louisville.  Kooima moved into the apartment and lived there alone for approximately one week.  On February 20, 1998, Maria Delgado, who is blind, and her guide dog, "Dave," moved into the apartment.

Janet Thornton, a manager at Hawthorne Place allegedly approached Kooima and asked her about Delgado.  Kooima explained that Delgado was going to be her roommate.  Thornton said that Delgado had to sign onto the lease.  Kooima agreed to have her do so.

Thornton then saw Dave, a black Labrador retriever.  Thornton said that Hawthorne Place did not allow pets.  Both women explained to Thornton that Dave was not a pet but a guide dog. They also explained that Delgado was blind and needed Dave's help to get around.

According to the women, Thornton said, "Well, a lot of people try to sneak pets into the apartments.  We don't want your dog here because then the neighbors would want a dog, too."

Thornton spoke to Kooima when she left the apartment to get something from her car.  Thornton allegedly said, "She (Maria) can stay, but without the dog."

Kooima again tried to explain that Delgado needed her guide dog and that Dave had been specially trained.  "He won't bark or make noise," Kooima explained.

Thornton then allegedly said, "You can't have dogs here.  She can stay without the dog, but the dog can't stay here  . . .  she has to leave with the dog. Because if the dog stayed, the neighbors wouldn't understand that the dog is a guide dog."  She added, "You will get a letter from my attorney saying that she [Maria] can't stay."

On February 21, 1998, Raquel Kooima received the letter from Defendants' attorney dated February 20, 1998.  The letter stated that Kooima must remove Delgado from the apartment within fourteen days or they would terminate her lease and she would be evicted by legal action.  On February 26, 1998, Raquel Kooima received another copy of the February 20, 1998 letter from Defendants' attorney by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Because of the manager's acts, Kooima and Delgado moved out of the apartment on March 6, 1998.  The two tenants contacted the Fair Housing Council.  The Council advised the women and filed a federal lawsuit on March 4, 1988.  The Defendants in the lawsuit included the owners and managers of Hawthorne Place Apartments.

After several months of litigation, the owners of Hawthorne Place agreed to settle the lawsuit.  Both Delgado and Kooima were very happy with the settlement that they shared with the Fair Housing Council.

The Fair Housing Council's executive director, Galen Martin, said, "The settlement with the owners and managers of Hawthorne Place Apartment is an example to other landlords and owners that discrimination against tenants with disabilities will not be tolerated in our community.  I want each landlord to know that if a blind person who uses a guide dog applies for housing, the landlord cannot refuse to rent to the person because she has a guide dog."

Council Staff Attorney Kevin Kijewski said, "We believe that the owners took the correct steps in settling this lawsuit.  With the agreement by the owners not to discriminate in housing and their affirmative steps having their managers attend fair housing training, I am most optimistic that tenants like Maria Delgado will not be discriminated against in the future."

Defendants' attorney was Kevin Mathews of Ricketts & Travis in Louisville.  The defendants did not admit guilt in the settlement.