In Wetzel v. Glen St. Andrew Living Community, a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, plaintiff alleges a discriminatory denial of equal housing opportunity on the basis of her sexual orientation. Specifically, she says the housing center and its managers failed to protect her from other residents who were hostile, verbally insulting and physically abusing her on a regular basis since it became known that her life partner, now deceased, was a woman.
The woman’s story was recently chronicled by The New York Times, which explained how the 69-year-old plaintiff had been grateful to find the tiny room in the senior living community after losing her life partner of 30 years to colon cancer. She battled health problems herself and didn’t have much in savings. As she began to become acquainted with other residents, she revealed she had raised her son with her partner. That information was not received well, and plaintiff almost instantly knew other residents were upset by it. Word traveled fast.
In the months that followed, she was pushed, shoved and spit on. She suffered injuries including bumps on her head, a black eye and bruising. One male resident in particular was threatened her repeatedly with violence, using obscene language and threatening to “throw you down an elevator shaft.”
Plaintiff alleges that not only did management not intervene to stop this, but when she reported the abuse, the facility retaliated by trying to push her out.
Attorneys for the facility have filed a motion to dismiss that is pending review by the judge.
If plaintiff prevails in her nursing home negligence claim, it could set a powerful legal precedent that would lay the foundation to hold providers of senior housing liable to actively address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity per the U.S. Fair Housing Act. The law prohibits any type of discrimination based on one’s “sex,” but does not specifically protect LGBT individuals.
Meanwhile, plaintiff has continued to live at the facility while her lawsuit is pending. She contends the physical assaults and harassment have not ceased, and in fact have been relentless. Other residents have repeatedly told her if she doesn’t like it, she can leave.
Sadly, her experience isn’t unique. Legal advocacy group Justice in Aging polled LGBT adults living in long-term care facilities in 2015 and found that most believed if they were “out” about their sexual orientation, they would face housing discrimination. The report detailed hundreds of stories of seniors who identify as LGBT who faced a variety of abuses and challenges, ranging from harassment by other residents to refusal of staff to provide basic care or services.
As the baby boom generation ages, we are more likely to see this issue cropping up. Needs of gays and lesbians may be even greater than others because they are more likely to be living in poverty (having not received many of the same protections that legal marriage provides), and they may be less likely to have family members who support them. Although the right of people to marry same-sex partners was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, there were many years where same-sex partners did not have access to spousal pension, retirement accounts, health benefits and survival/ spouse benefits provided by Social Security.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
No Rest at Rest Home: Fighting Bias Against Gays and Lesbians, Nov. 18, 2016, By Mark Miller, The New York Times
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