Small Town Fined $5M Over Group Home Issue

A judge ruled that a “Fair Housing Center” home for six individuals faced discrimination, and ordered the town of Cromwell, Connecticut, to pay $5M.

CROMWELL, Conn. – Cromwell voters approved a measure Wednesday to transfer $5 million from the town’s general fund to pay a record penalty imposed by a federal jury last year for “overt discriminatory practices” related to the opening of a home for men with mental health disabilities.

About 50 people, 11 of whom spoke during the public hearing, turned out for the town meeting.

Last fall, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding $5 million in punitive and $181,000 in compensatory damages to Middletown-based Gilead Community Services, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and Rainbow Housing Corp.

The Fair Housing Center purchased the home to be used as a community-based residence for six individuals under Gilead’s care.

The three entities had filed suit due to town practices that led to the closure of the single-family home on Reisman Drive in October. Due to those issues, the single-family residence, located off Main Street and close to the middle and intermediate schools, was eventually sold.

The award set a national record, according to civil rights lawyers in the case.

“In response to the purchase, city officials in Cromwell staged a battle against Gilead and their clients through a series of overtly discriminatory actions, making it clear that individuals with disabilities were not welcome,” the Connecticut Fair Housing Center said.

“The jury’s verdict sent a clear message to towns throughout the state of Connecticut that exclusion of group homes for people with disabilities violates federal law, and will not be tolerated,” Gilead’s counsel, Relman Colfax, said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, town attorney Tom Girard said he’s in the process of writing appeal briefs and expects to file the paperwork in the New York 2nd Circuit Court in September.

“We have a very strong appeal,” said Girard, who likened the process to a football game. “We’re at halftime … this is not over by any stretch, but, in order to succeed with our appeal, we have to convince the court … that, if we go through our appeal process, and we are unsuccessful, the town of Cromwell is good for it,” he explained.

“We have the money. They don’t need to force us to pay for and post a very expensive appeal bond,” said Girard, who “wholeheartedly” recommended residents approve the measure.

© 2022 The Middletown Press, Conn. Dan Haar contributed to this article.