Missouri Lesbian Couple Sues Senior Housing Community for Discrimination

The National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ), Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, and co-counsel filed a lawsuit today on behalf of married lesbian couple Mary Walsh, age 72, and Bev Nance, age 68, against St. Louis senior housing community Friendship Village Sunset Hills.

The complaint alleges that Friendship Village violated the federal Fair Housing Act and Missouri Human Rights Act by discriminating against Walsh and Nance on the basis of sex, denying them a unit because they are a lesbian senior couple.lesbian senior

Friendship Village told Walsh and Nance that it would not accept them because it followed the “Biblical definition” of marriage and “defined marriage as between a man and a woman.” Friendship Village is not affiliated with or operated by any religion or religious order; it is open to the public and does not inquire about the religious beliefs or affiliations of residents. Walsh and Nance considered seeking housing elsewhere, but Friendship Village is the only senior housing community in St. Louis that can provide increased levels of care without an increased monthly cost to residents.

“We’ve been together for nearly 40 years and have spent our lives in St. Louis. We want to grow older here by each other’s side,” said plaintiff Mary Walsh. “We should not be prevented from accessing the housing and care we need.”

“Mary and Bev were denied housing for one reason and one reason only—because they were married to each other rather than to men. This is exactly the type of sex discrimination the Fair Housing Act prohibits,” said NCLR Senior Staff Attorney Julie Wilensky. “Their story demonstrates the kind of exclusion and discrimination still facing same-sex couples of all ages.”

Walsh and Nance have both lived in St. Louis since childhood and have been in a committed relationship together since 1978. They first heard about Friendship Village from several friends who lived there. Nance became acquainted with it when she met a former colleague and his wife for lunch there. Then, Walsh and Nance went to dinner at Friendship Village to visit a friend living there with her husband. Walsh and Nance’s friends enthusiastically recommended Friendship Village and encouraged the couple to move there.

Before deciding on Friendship Village, Walsh and Nance made multiple visits, had extensive conversations with staff, and paid a $2,000 deposit. They even canceled a long-planned vacation, losing their nonrefundable airfare, because Friendship Village told them they could get advantageous rates if they signed all of their paperwork quickly and moved within a short timeframe. After being actively encouraged by Friendship Village for several months to obtain housing there, Walsh and Nance were shocked to be denied housing because they are a same-sex couple.

In addition to NCLR and Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Missouri and Arlene Zarembka.

“Friendship Village was repeatedly advised for several years by its former management company to abandon their discriminatory policy but refused to do so,” said Relman, Dane & Colfax Counsel Joseph Wardenski. “By bringing this lawsuit, Mary and Bev will help ensure that other same-sex couples are not subjected to illegal housing discrimination.”

Windy City Times via NCLR Press Release – July 25, 2018

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Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown

Attorney and Advocate at Time For Families
Who am I? On the deepest level, I am blessed. I have an amazing partner, who I have known since 1989 and been married to since 2004. I am the donor dad of two beautiful daughters who have two moms who are equally amazing. My husband and I have expanded our family through surrogacy and have a seven-year old son. I have had three careers (acting, massage therapy and the law) and I am still discovering myself. I am the Board Chair of Men Having Babies. The one thing I know for sure is that life is about trusting your instincts. Family is an instinct.
Anthony Brown