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L.A. assisted living facilities discriminated against non-Koreans, federal lawsuit alleges
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Sunny Hills Assisted Living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles told non-Korean "testers" that their facility cared only for Koreans, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the Fair Housing Federation of Southern California and two Black plaintiffs. 

Ashley Ahn

February 15, 2024

Three Los Angeles assisted living facilities with a mostly Korean clientele turned away non-Koreans who inquired about moving in , with workers stating that only Koreans would be accepted, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the Fair Housing Federation of Southern California and two Black plaintiffs.

The federation, a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate housing discrimination, employed 10 “testers” who posed as family members of senior citizens interested in living in one of the facilities — Sunny Hills Assisted Living in Pico-Robertson, Garden Silver Town in Koreatown and Mugunghwa Silvertown just south of Koreatown.

The assisted living facilities told the seven non-Korean testers that they only accepted Koreans, according to the lawsuit. The three Korean testers sent to the facilities moved further along in the admissions process, were given a tour and allowed to submit the prospective resident’s medical records, the lawsuit said.

Sunny Hills administrator Steve Cho told The Times on Wednesday that he and other staffers evaluate whether an applicant is healthy enough to live at the facility, which can’t care for people with severe mental or physical illnesses.

“Whether they are foreigners, Koreans, white, Black, it doesn’t matter to us,” Cho said in Korean. “The most important factor is their condition.”

But the lawsuit, filed last Friday, told a different story.

Plaintiff Lydia Mojica Behrens called Sunny Hills in February 2022 hoping to find a place for her 89-year-old mother, who suffers from debilitating arthritis and other conditions, according to the lawsuit. When Behrens said her mother’s name, Zenaida Mojica, a worker replied, “Mojica? Is that Spanish?”

Behrens and her mother, who is also a plaintiff, are Black of Cuban ancestry.

According to the lawsuit, the worker conferred with a colleague, then told Behrens, “Well we only take Korean people. We are Koreans and everyone here is Korean.”

When Behrens asked for clarification, the worker added that every resident and employee was Korean, according to the lawsuit. There was no need for Behrens to take a tour, since her mother was not Korean and wouldn’t be able to live there, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, when two Black testers inquired about a spot for an elderly parent at Sunny Hills the next month, they got similar responses, with one employee stating, “Only Koreans are cared for here.”

A tester of Korean ancestry was treated differently, the lawsuit said, receiving a tour of the facility and a price list. In addition to compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees, the plaintiffs are asking that the defendants no longer discriminate against applicants and that the plaintiffs be given a place at the facilities.

Odion Okojie and David Iyalomhe, attorneys representing the plaintiffs, did not respond to requests for comment.

Testers from the housing federation were treated similarly at the two other assisted living facilities in March 2022, according to the lawsuit, with non-Korean testers turned away and Korean testers welcomed.

According to the lawsuit, a Black tester at Garden Silver Town was told to inquire at facilities that accept Black people, since it was only for Koreans.

A white tester who called Mugunghwa Silvertown was told that the facility was a “100%” Korean facility and that the prospective resident could not apply as a non-Korean, the lawsuit said.

“Not only did this never happen, there’s no way it could have happened,” Mugunghwa Silvertown administrator Jessica Shin said in Korean. “Our employees go through anti-discrimination training.”

Garden Silver Town administrator Steve Kim called the discrimination allegations “some sort of misunderstanding.”

“I’m in complete shock,” said Kim, who said he found out about the lawsuit in the Korean-language media. “We’ve never discriminated against anyone coming into the facility.”

Garden Silver Town is in the heart of Koreatown, so all of its 60 residents are usually Korean, Kim said.

“In the past, we’ve had African American residents, Caucasian residents,” Kim said. “It’s just in the last few years, it’s been a lot of Koreans that have been coming in, and that’s just how it’s been.”

Cho of Sunny Hills said that prospective residents are always invited to come in and have a meal of Korean food such as rice, soup and kimchi that non-Koreans may not be familiar with.

Two of Sunny Hills’ roughly 90 residents are non-Korean, Cho said. He added that he doesn’t see a problem with a facility in a predominantly Korean neighborhood having a Korean staff and serving an overwhelmingly Korean client base.

“I think there is an underlying jealousy behind these allegations against these successful Korean-run facilities,” he said. “There are a lot of facilities that just have predominantly white people and predominantly Black people. Is that discrimination?”

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Civil Rights Department Announces $110,000 Mediated Settlement to Resolve Alleged Failure by Assisted Living Facilities to Accommodate Seniors with Disabilities

 

Testing by nonprofit fair housing organization identifies multiple alleged failures to provide ASL interpretation for fictional deaf grandmother

 

SACRAMENTO – The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) today announced a $110,000 mediated settlement with five Southern California assisted living facilities over alleged failures to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation for seniors with disabilities. The settlement is the result of testing by the Fair Housing Federation of Southern California that identified multiple alleged failures to provide or attempt to accommodate ASL interpretation for a fictional deaf grandmother seeking to reside at the facilities. Under state and federal law, nonprofit fair housing organizations may be authorized to carry out testing — including by posing as another individual in need of disability accommodations — to help identify and eliminate discriminatory housing practices. In addition to monetary compensation, the settlement requires the assisted living facilities to take proactive steps to prevent future discrimination, including through training, policy changes, and the provision of information to prospective residents about their civil rights

 

.“People with disabilities are entitled to fair access to housing,” said CRD Director Kevin Kish. “This settlement is an important reminder that assisted living facilities cannot categorically deny access to American Sign Language interpretation to prospective tenants. Whether it’s through private suits, government enforcement actions, or fair housing testing, it takes all of us working together to protect and uphold the civil rights of our state’s residents. This case demonstrates the power of fair housing testing — and it will help prevent future discrimination at these facilities.”

 

In 2023, CRD received multiple complaints from the Fair Housing Federation of Southern California that alleged five Southern California assisted living facilities denied a fictional deaf grandmother the opportunity to apply for housing at the facilities by failing to engage in an interactive process to accommodate a need for ASL. Pursuant to its statutory authority, CRD investigated the complaints and provided for an opportunity for the involved entities to voluntarily resolve the matter through mediation with the department’s Dispute Resolution Division. The division operates within CRD to provide free, neutral mediation services to help parties resolve disputes and address discrimination complaints filed with CRD. Each year, the division resolves hundreds of complaints, resulting in policy changes and millions of dollars in direct relief to impacted Californians.

 

.As part of the settlement, the assisted living facilities — located in Hermosa Beach, Playa Vista, San Gabriel, Thousand Oaks, and Torrance — and their management companies have agreed to:

 

  • Conduct a good-faith comprehensive review of their written fair housing policies and implement all modifications necessary to make the polices fully compliant with California law.

  • Adopt and implement modifications to their equal access polices regarding people with sensory disabilities who use auxiliary aids and services, including residents and prospective residents who are hard of hearing or deaf.

  • Train intake personnel, caregivers, and site managers on the changes to equal access policies. Provide a copy of the updated equal access policy to all deaf and hard of hearing prospective residents and their families for every housing accommodation owned or managed by the respondents in California.

  • Include the term “Fair Housing Opportunity” in every future advertisement for available housing accommodations in California.

  • Pay $110,000 to the Fair Housing Federation of Southern California, a nonprofit fair housing organization.

    If you or someone you know has been the victim of discrimination, CRD may be able to assist you through its complaint process. General information about CRD’s complaint process and how to file a complaint is available HERE..
    The settlement announced today was mediated by Senior Attorney Mediator Bruce W. Carter. The matter was investigated by Gloria Morales and Leslye Oseguera with CRD’s Enforcement Division.The entities covered under the settlement include 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, 

THE KOREA DAILY

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Assisted living facilities sued for accepting ‘only Koreans’ deny the accusation

Several Koreatown assisted living facilities in Los Angeles have been sued for allegedly refusing non-Korean residents. The companies insist they comply with anti-discrimination laws, attributing the controversy to misunderstandings about cultural features like serving Korean cuisine and having a predominantly Korean-speaking community.

 

On February 9, LA County residents Lydia Mojica Behrens and Zenaida Mojica, alongside the Fair Housing Federation of Southern California, a housing advocacy nonprofit, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against three Koreatown assisted living operators.

 

The defendants, ‘A Better Tomorrow Care Corp’, ‘S.M. Healthcare Inc.’, and ‘Spark Family Operations LLC’, operate Koreatown’s Garden Silver Town, Mugunghwa Silvertown, and Sunny Hills Assistant Living, respectively, according to the court filings.

The accused facilities predominantly serve Korean residents, offer Korean food, and have workers speaking mainly Korean. The plaintiffs claim these facilities discriminated by refusing non-Korean applicants, violating the Fair Employment and Housing Act through racial, color, and national origin discrimination.

 

Koreatown’s assisted living communities are perplexed by the allegations, denying any refusal of non-Korean residents. “It’s nonsensical to suggest we’d refuse non-Koreans; as private entities, we have no reason for denying potential residents,” a Mugunghwa Silvertown spokesperson told the Korea Daily.

 

“Knowing that some seniors struggle with new environments, we clarify upfront about serving Korean food, the presence of Korean-speaking residents, and Korean-only speaking staff,” it added.

 

Also, the facilities suggest miscommunication might arise if a non-English-speaking staff member answers calls in the receptionist’s absence. “This could lead to misunderstandings, as some staff, including caregivers, only speak Korean. Their inability to communicate in English doesn’t reflect our policies but highlights a potential barrier we must address,” it explained.

 

“All employees are trained on anti-discrimination policies before starting. During inquiries, we mention our services such as Korean-speaking caregivers and serving Korean food daily and ask if this is acceptable. If they say yes, we always welcome anyone coming to our assisted living facility,” Garden Silver Town said.

 

BY HOONSIK WOO [woo.hoonsik@koreadaily.com]

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