Senior living community didn't protect lesbian resident, lawsuit contends

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

An Illinois senior living community failed to protect a lesbian resident from the harassment, discrimination and violence that she incurred at the hands of fellow residents because of her sex and sexual orientation, Lambda Legal said in its Wednesday filing of a federal lawsuit against the community and its administrators.

A community representative told McKnight's Senior Living that it “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind or under any circumstances.”

Marsha Wetzel moved into Glen Saint Andrew Living Community in Niles, IL, 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.

“Marsha deserves the same compassionate care and safety provided for all the other seniors at Glen Saint Andrew, but instead, the staff have created an environment where it is acceptable to isolate, harass and attack someone because of who they are and who they loved,” said Karen Loewy, a senior attorney and seniors program strategist at Lambda Legal.

The lawsuit by the nonprofit legal organization brings claims under the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex.

In a statement to McKnight's Senior Living, Glen Saint Andrew Living Community said: “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. We will have no further comments until we completely review the court filing with our attorney.”

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