Caseyville Township settles discrimination lawsuit for $60,000

News-DemocratDecember 12, 2013 

Caseyville Township trustees have settled a federal lawsuit alleging the trustees discriminated against disabled residents by charging a nonprofit group four times more than it should have for a sewer tap-in fee.

The township has agreed to pay $60,000 to Cerebral Palsy of Southwestern Illinois, based in Belleville, and refund $10,225 of the nonprofit's tap-in fee. The settlement agreement states township trustees do not admit any wrongdoing in the lawsuit and settled to avoid further expense.

Township officials directed a request for an interview regarding the settlement to township attorney Tom Fleming. Fleming could not be reached for comment.

The nonprofit filed the lawsuit in January following the construction of two group homes located at 220 Oulvey St. and 4 N. Ruby Lane in Fairview Heights. The settlement was approved on Aug. 29. The News-Democrat obtained the agreement through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Both locations host a 6-person group home with staff members providing care for adults with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a common congenital disorder of muscle tone most often diagnosed in childhood.

The township's Board of Trustees initially considered the homes as commercial property and later as multi-family dwellings, according to court documents.

In July 2012, township officials charged the nonprofit $12,800 to tap-in to the township sewer system. As a single-family residence, the cost would have been $2,575.

The lawsuit alleges the township "refused to treat the group homes as single-family residences as a means of discriminating" against disabled residents and the nonprofit had been forced to reduce services at the Oulvey Street group home because of the unforeseen costs of the township's discriminatory conduct.

The board rejected objections to the fee from Jeanne Haege, executive director with the nonprofit. Haege could not be for comment.

Kathy Gardner with United Way of Greater St. Louis, which works with numerous local nonprofit agencies, said she was not aware of similar conflicts arising with other nonprofits.

Haege's objection to the fee spurred exchanges with trustees during board meetings in September and November 2012, according to court documents.

The lawsuit alleges two trustees made derogatory remarks about disabled residents hoping to live in the group homes. A trustee allegedly stated the residents should live in nursing homes and "they don't know up from down."

Another trustee allegedly stated "these people don't belong here" and asked Haege "How would you like to have them as your neighbors?" Haege replied group homes made great neighbors and residents with disabilities had as much right to live in a nice and safe neighborhood as anyone else.

Two adult residents of the group homes, Erick Schuetz and Florence Thompson, were plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the township. Schuetz, of Belleville, and Thompson, of Fairview Heights, have cerebral palsy and are unable to live without support from others. Both are employed at other nonprofit agencies.

Schuetz and Thompson were each to receive $5,000 from the township in the settlement, according to the settlement agreement.

The settlement also states the township must charge the nonprofit with residential sewer rates, which are about half the cost of commercial rates.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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