Lesbian resident's discrimination case back in court

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

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 was back in federal court Tuesday as Lambda Legal appealed the January 2017 dismissal of the case.

A panel of three judges of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case and is expected to rule in the next several weeks. If the lower court's decision is overturned, the case ultimately could help establish that Fair Housing Act protections cover LGBT tenants harassed by fellow tenants.

Lambda Legal had filed the original complaint on behalf of Marsha Wetzel, a former resident of Glen Saint Andrew Living Community in Niles, IL, in July 2016. The nonprofit legal organization brought the claims under the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex.

In January 2017, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan dismissed the case, saying that Wetzel had not shown that Glen Saint Andrew and its leadership had “an intent to discriminate,” which he said is required for claims filed under the Fair Housing Act. Lambda Legal appealed.

Wetzel had moved into the community in November 2014 after the death of her partner of 30 years, according to the original 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.

Lambda Legal, in a press release, said that Tuesday in the appeals court, “Glen Saint Andrew argued that they have zero obligation to keep any of their residents safe from discriminatory harassment.”

Glen Saint Andrew did not respond to a new request for comment but previously told McKnight's Senior Living that the 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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