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Rehab Home Wins $135,000 From Fort Worth

FORT WORTH (CN) - Fort Worth on Friday agreed to pay $135,000 to a group home for recovering drug and alcohol addicts to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit.

The United States sued the city in April last year on behalf of Ebby's Place and home operator Ben Patterson, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

The federal lawsuit claimed the city used zoning ordinances to keep a protected class out of a neighborhood. The city had fined the group home more than $7,400 for housing at least eight non-relatives. The single-family residential home was zoned for a maximum of five non-relatives.

When the City Council unanimously rejected Patterson's request for a zoning variance, he complained to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which referred the case to the Department of Justice.

Ebby's Place houses people who have completed at least a 30-day drug or alcohol treatment program.

Pending approval of the settlement by U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor, Fort Worth will rescind the fines and allow Ebby's Place to house up to seven residents.

"Fort Worth will also pay $135,000 to Ebby's Place in monetary damages and $10,000 to the United States as a civil penalty," prosecutors said Friday. "As a part of the settlement, Fort Worth also adopted an ordinance establishing a process whereby persons may seek reasonable accommodations from the city's zoning or land use laws and practices, where such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing."

U.S. Attorney John Parker said the city has cooperated "from the beginning" of the investigation.

"There was never any doubt in my mind that the city leaders would work with the Department of Justice to achieve the right result, and they've done just that," Parker said in a statement Friday.

The group home's attorney, John Guild with Gruber Hurst, said the important thing is that the city changed its behavior, "so disabled people who need accommodations can get a fair hearing."

"We're hopeful the settlement will result in this type of lawsuit not arising in the future and will ultimately save taxpayers money from not having to defend future lawsuits like this," Guild told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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