Metro Weekly

Lesbian couple settles lawsuit with senior living community that rejected them

Couple's lawsuit was initially dismissed on the grounds that LGBTQ people aren't protected by the Fair Housing Act

lesbian, lawsuit, senior, retirement, living, discrimination
Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance – Photo courtesy of Mary Walsh.

A lesbian couple in Missouri has settled a lawsuit brought against a St. Louis retirement community that refused to let them live there.

Mary Walsh and Bev Nance, who have been together since 1978, first heard about Friendship Village in Sunset Hills from friends who lived there. The retirement community is not affiliated with or operated by any religious organization, and purports not to inquire about residents’ religious beliefs.

Walsh and Nance made multiple visits, had extensive conversations with staff, paid a $2,000 deposit, and even canceled a long-planned vacation, in order to take advantage of a special offer from Friendship Village if they completed their paperwork within a specific window of time.

But the couple says they were later turned away from the community, on the grounds that their relationship did not match the “Biblical definition” of marriage — meaning one man married to one woman — by which Friendship Village purports to abide.

The couple sued the retirement community in July 2018, alleging they were victims of sex discrimination, in violation of both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act. That lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge last year, who found that the Fair Housing Act does not protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

See also: Federal court: Fair Housing Act protects LGBTQ people

But in July, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the decision back to the lower court for reconsideration, pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in an employment discrimination case that sexual orientation is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Tony Rothert, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, which represented Walsh and Nance, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the couple and the retirement community have since “resolved” their differences.

He declined to discuss the terms of the settlement, citing confidentiality, but said he hoped the Supreme Court’s decision in the Title VII case would mean that “we hope not to see policies like we were challenging here in the future.”

“This has been a harrowing experience and one that I hope no other same-sex couple has to face,” Walsh said in a statement. “Bev and I are relieved that this case is now behind us and that we have closure after our lives were thrown into chaos.”

“Housing is essential for everyone and can be a huge source of stress as we age or become more dependent on other people,” Julie Wilensky, a senior staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented the couple along with the ACLU of Missouri. “No one should have to fear being turned away from a retirement community because they are LGBTQ.”

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