Alleged discrimination against employees and prospects leads to lawsuits and penalties for assisted living communities in California, Georgia

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Nine assisted living communities in Georgia and California are facing legal scrutiny over allegations they discriminated against employees and prospective residents.

In one case, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that Covenant Woods, a personal care and independent living community in Columbus, GA operated by Covenant Woods Senior Living and BrightSpace Senior Living 78-year-old employee fired She was briefly hospitalized. The woman, who had worked as a receptionist for 14 years and was named Employee of the Year in January 2022, was replaced by a “significantly younger employee,” according to the EEOC.

The community manager reportedly told the employee that she no longer had confidence in the woman's ability to work, citing her recent hospitalization, even though she had never previously raised any significant performance concerns with the receptionist.

“We at Brightspace and Covenant Woods do not agree that we have engaged in unlawful discrimination in any way,” Brian Hendricks, CFO of BrightSpace Senior Living, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We remain committed to our residents and staff.”

The EEOC said it filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia after pre-trial settlement discussions were unsuccessful. The EEOC alleges that the community violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Covenant Woods violated both statutes when it was terminated [the employment of] “A high-performing, long-serving employee under the unfounded belief that her age and health would prevent her from doing her job,” Marcus G. Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC Atlanta District Office, said in a statement.

Fair Housing Allegations

Meanwhile, three assisted living communities in Los Angeles' Koreatown neighborhood and their operators were sued for allegedly refusing to admit non-Koreans into the city. And in another case in California, five assisted living communities agreed to a $110,000 settlement over alleged failures to accommodate older adults with hearing impairments.

In the Koreatown case, the Fair Housing Federation of Southern California and two individuals filed a lawsuit against A Better Tomorrow Care Corp. last week in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. one that operates Garden Silver Town; SM Healthcare Inc., which operates Mugunghwa Silvertown; and Spark Family Operations LLC, which operates Sunny Hills Assisted Living.

The communities house predominantly Korean residents, serve Korean food, and employ a workforce that primarily speaks Korean. The nonprofit housing advocate alleged that the communities discriminated by rejecting applications from non-Korean people, violating the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The lawsuit alleges that seven non-Korean “testers” were told that the communities only accepted Koreans, while three Korean testers “were advanced further in the admissions process, given a tour and allowed to submit the prospective resident's medical records,” it says in the lawsuit The Los Angeles Times reported.

The communities have denied the allegations, saying there may have been a miscommunication between a non-English-speaking employee who answered phone calls in the absence of a receptionist.

In the other case, the Fair Housing Federation of Southern California settled with five California assisted living communities for $110,000 after resolving allegations that the communities failed to provide a prospective resident, in reality a “fictitious deaf grandmother,” during one American Sign Language interpreters provided a test for communities.

The affected Southern California communities – in Hermosa Beach, San Gabriel, Torrance, Thousand Oaks and Playa Vista – are operated or managed by Sunrise Senior Living Management, Welltower Opco Group LLC, SZR Westlake Village Propco, AL US/San Gabriel Senior Housing LP, Sunrise Torrance Senior PropCo LLC and AL US/Playa Vista Senior Housing.

In addition to monetary penalties, the settlement announced by the California Department of Civil Rights requires communities to take proactive measures to prevent future discrimination, including training, policy changes and providing prospective residents with information about their civil rights.