Homeowners association, property managers settle discrimination lawsuit

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An Indianapolis homeowner has reached a $262,500 settlement with her homeowners association and a property management company over allegations of harassment and discrimination.

Donata Banks and the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana filed a lawsuit against Kirkpatrick Management Company Inc. and Twin Creeks Homeowners Association Inc., as well as Banks’ former neighbor Vicki New, seeking to end an allegedly racially hostile environment and discriminatory harassment.

The consent decree and settlement agreement signed Tuesday by Kirkpatrick and Twin Creeks include the terms of monetary payment along with a series of steps the defendants must undertake to prevent discrimination or neighbor harassment.

“Harassment of any kind has no place in our neighborhoods, including for renters and homeowners in homeowners’ and condo associations,” Brady Ripperger, deputy director of administration and advocacy at FHCCI, said in a press release. “We celebrate this resolution to exemplify that all parties in the housing industry should take their fair housing obligations seriously because housing discrimination should have no home in Indiana.”

The consent decree notes Kirkpatrick and Twin Creeks are not admitting to any liability or wrongdoing by entering into the settlement with Banks.

“No judicial ruling has been entered against the Association, and we wholeheartedly dispute that the HOA and its Board violated any fair housing laws,” Wyatt Smith, president of the Twin Creeks Homeowners Association Inc., said in a statement. “Nevertheless, for the sake of avoiding lengthy and expensive litigation, the Board, acting under the advice of legal counsel, believed it was in everyone’s best interest to settle claims without taking the matter to trial.”

Banks filed the lawsuit in federal court against Twin Creeks, Kirkpatrick and New asserting violations of the federal and state fair housing acts and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. In Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Inc.; and Donata Banks v. Vicki New, et al., 1:20-cv-1176, the plaintiffs detailed an extended period of alleged harassment, with New yelling derogatory names and threats at Banks and other people of color who lived in the neighborhood.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied Twin Creeks’ motion to end the case in January 2021.

New is not a party to either the settlement or consent decree. In April 2021, the Southern Indiana District Court entered a default judgment against her.

In his statement, Smith said Twin Creeks welcomes residents of all races, ethnicities, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations and identities.

“… (T)he Twin Creeks HOA continues to deny liability for the unfortunate actions of a former homeowner, who was never on the HOA Board, was never an HOA officer, and in no way was a representative of the Twin Creeks HOA,” Smith said. “The volunteers serving on the HOA Board took a number of steps to intervene in this matter, up to and including a formal letter to Ms. New from the HOA’s attorney ordering that she cease all communication with her neighbors and sell her home which she did shortly after receiving the letter.”

Under the settlement agreement, the defendants are required to provide the monetary payment by April 1. The funds will cover any claims for damages along with attorney fees or costs.

The consent decree requires each member of the homeowners association board and any new members who join within the next three years to attend a fair housing training session. Kirkpatrick’s management and select staff members must also attend a fair housing training session within three months of the decree being entered and every year following.

In addition, Kirkpatrick and Twin Creeks must develop and implement their own policies for handling complaints about residents or guests who harass or discriminate against other residents or guests. They are also required to keep records of the alleged harassment or discrimination. The policies must include steps for responding to the complaints and procedures for resolving the complaints.

“We applaud today’s settlement and our client’s bravery for stepping up and demanding that this type of housing discrimination be stopped,” Amy Nelson, executive director of FHCCI, said in a press release. “It is often terrifying and time consuming for victims of housing discrimination to move forward in what can often be a too burdensome process placed upon them.”

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