- Associated Press - Friday, December 7, 2018

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) - Federal officials filed a lawsuit Thursday against a New Orleans-area parish, accusing it of violating the federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating against people with disabilities.

The lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department in New Orleans federal court says St. Bernard Parish failed to provide reasonable accommodations to its zoning ordinance, as officials repeatedly refused to allow two group homes for teenagers with mental and emotional disabilities to operate in single-family zoning districts.

The homes had satisfied all of Louisiana’s relevant licensing requirements, the department said in a statement, news outlets reported. The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting the parish from applying its zoning code in a discriminatory manner, as well as monetary damages for victims and payment of a civil penalty, or fine.

St. Bernard Parish Assistant District Attorney William McGoey said the DA’s office, which represents the parish in civil cases, does not comment on pending litigation.

The two group homes’ owners, Dionna Richardson and Cathy Moore, had already sued St. Bernard Parish in a pending federal lawsuit. The women want to operate AngeliCare LLC and C. Moore Therapeutic Group Home LLC for children ages 13 to 17. Their lawsuit seeks financial damages and an injunction allowing the homes to open in Chalmette and Violet.

Richardson and Moore say the parish improperly changed its zoning code to exclude group homes after they had already applied for licenses. They allege officials then refused to grant code modifications that would allow them to open.

Parish council members did not respond to news outlets’ requests for comment. But officials have disputed the discrimination claims in public meetings, saying the owners could have chosen to open in other parts of the parish. And some residents who attended the meetings also said that they have similar concerns over the homes’ locations.

Statewide, there are 13 homes similar to the two proposed in St. Bernard. In 2014, the parish agreed to pay a roughly $1.8 million settlement in connection with a civil suit over racial discrimination in rental housing.

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