The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of an elderly woman who alleges she was discriminated against and harassed while living in a senior retirement home in Illinois for being lesbian.
Marsha Wetzel moved into the Glen St. Andrew Living Community, near Chicago, in 2014 after her longtime partner Judy had died of colon cancer.
In the aftermath of Judy's passing, Judy's family did not respect the 30 year relationship. The family took possession of Judy's assets including the home they'd shared.
And so, Marsha had to find a place to live, and she found Glen St. Andrew.
But by 2016, she was forced to file a lawsuit after she experienced ugly, homophobic abuse at the hands of other residents and Glen St. Andrew did nothing about it.
Marsha says she was called anti-gay slurs and spit upon by residents. In her lawsuit she also alleged that she had been attacked and hit in the head in the community laundry room.
Additionally, she fell and bruised her arm when another resident rammed into her scooter knocking her over.
When Marsha took her concerns to management, nothing was done and she was retaliated against, reports the Chicago Tribune.
When the case went to trial last year, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.
But undeterred, Marsha soldiered on to the 7th Circuit Appeals Court where yesterday a panel of three judges overturned the 2017 ruling and sent the case back to be tried.
The panel came to the conclusion that Glen St. Andrew could be held liable for housing discrimination.
Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote in the ruling, ‘“Not only does it (the Fair Housing Act) create liability when a landlord intentionally discriminates against a tenant based on a protected characteristic; it also creates liability against a landlord that has actual notice of tenant-on-tenant harassment … yet chooses not to take any reasonable steps within its control to stop that harassment.”
The win at the 7th Circuit was celebrated by Lambda Legal senior counsel Karen Loewy, who said in a statement after the ruling, “This is a tremendous victory for Marsha.”
“She, just like all people living in rental housing, whether LGBT or not, should be assured that they will at least be safe from discriminatory harassment in their own homes, “ Loewy continued. “What happened to Marsha was illegal and unconscionable, and the Court has now put all landlords on notice that they have an obligation to take action to stop known harassment.”
A statement released by a Glen St. Andrew spokesperson said while the senior home “is committed to providing fair, safe and non-discriminatory housing, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sex or sexual orientation,” the retirement home still denies the allegations.
“At this stage, the court was required to assume the factual allegations of plaintiff’s complaint were true for purposes of determining the legal issues,” they said in a statement. “Glen St. Andrew strongly denies the factual allegations of the complaint and will present its case in court at the appropriate time.”
Lambda Legal created the heartbreaking video below when Marsha began her legal battle in 2016.