Metro Weekly

Lesbian appeals lawsuit against assisted living facility that allegedly ignored harassment against her

Marsha Wetzel was harassed and physically assaulted by other residents when they discovered she was a lesbian

Marsha Wetzel – Photo: Lambda Legal.

A lesbian senior who was subjected to harassment and violence by residents at her assisted living facility is trying to have her lawsuit against the facility reinstated.

On Tuesday, Lambda Legal appeared in court to urge the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to restore the lawsuit it brought against Glen Saint Andrew Living Community in Niles, Ill., on behalf of Marsha Wetzel. The lawsuit was originally filed in July 2016.

Wetzel moved into the facility after being evicted from the home she had shared with her late partner by her partner’s siblings.

After Wetzel disclosed to other residents that she had been in a 30-year relationship with a woman and they had raised a child together, some residents began to harass her, physically attack her, and call her names like “fucking dyke,” “fucking faggot,” and “homosexual bitch.”

Wetzel complained to management, but administrators refused to address the ongoing discrimination, instead retaliating against her for complaining.

Lambda Legal subsequently filed a complaint alleging discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

In January 2017, the court dismissed the lawsuit without reference to sex or sexual orientation claims, thereby broadening the question at stake to an assisted living facility’s general responsibility for protecting residents from harassment and violence at the hands of other residents.

“When we filed this lawsuit in July of 2016, we were thinking of the thousands of LGBT seniors, just like Marsha, who were experiencing discrimination in senior housing or who lived in fear of being their true selves, but this case is now much bigger than that,” Karen Loewy, the senior counsel and Seniors Program Strategist for Lambda Legal, said in a statement.

“In [Tuesday]’s arguments, Glen Saint Andrew argued that they have zero obligation to keep any of their residents safe from discriminatory harassment,” Loewy said. “Though it is particularly appalling to hear that argument from an entity that specializes in caring for seniors, the rights of all tenants to hold their landlords accountable when they are denied equal housing opportunity is at stake here.”

“I am not giving up,” Marsha Wetzel said in a statement. “I felt completely scared and helpless when the people in charge at Glen Saint Andrew would not protect me, but the idea that they don’t think they have to protect anyone is shocking. The elderly deserve to be treated with respect and to feel safe no matter who they are or who they loved and I’m going to fight for us.”

See Lambda Legal’s video about Wetzel’s case here:

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