Community to face appeal of lesbian resident's discrimination case dismissal

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Marsha Wetzel (Lambda Legal)
Marsha Wetzel (Lambda Legal)

Lambda Legal said it will appeal a federal court's dismissal of a lawsuit claiming that an Illinois senior living community failed to protect a lesbian resident from harassment, discrimination and violence from fellow residents because of her sex and sexual orientation.

A representative of the community, Glen Saint Andrew Living Community in Niles, IL, told McKnight's Senior Living that it “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind or under any circumstances.”

Lambda Legal, a nonprofit organization advocating for the civil rights for LGBT individuals, had filed the lawsuit in July. It was dismissed Jan. 18 by U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, who said that defendant Marsha Wetzel did not show that Glen Saint Andrew and its leadership had “an intent to discriminate,” which he said is required for claims, such as Wetzel's, that are filed under the Fair Housing Act.

Lambda Legal, along with its co-counsel, Foley & Lardner LLP, had filed the lawsuit on behalf of Wetzel.

“Housing providers, like employers, can be held liable when they know about discriminatory abuse and harassment and fail to take steps to stop it,” Karen Loewy, senior attorney and seniors program strategist at Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “Glen Saint Andrew is obligated to provide a safe living environment for the seniors who live there. We feel the District Court's dismissal of Marsha's lawsuit does not appropriately apply the law, and we're confident that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will agree.”

Wetzel moved into the for-profit senior living community in November 2014 after the death of her partner of 30 years, according to the complaint. After she disclosed to other residents that she had been in a long-term relationship with a woman and that they had raised a son together, some residents began to harass her, physically attack her and call her names, Lambda Legal said. When Wetzel reported the incidents to community administrators, she was marginalized and retaliated against for complaining, according to the lawsuit.

Reached after the judge's decision to dismiss the case, a Glen Saint Andrew representative reiterated comments made after the lawsuit originally was filed, telling McKnight's Senior Living that the community “is proud to offer quality independent living for seniors. We warmly welcome and encourage members to find their niche in a loving community they can call home. Our community does not tolerate discrimination of any kind or under any circumstances. Rather, we actively promote dignity for all members of the community.”

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