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Lesbian’s lawsuit against senior facility reinstated on appeal

Lesbian’s lawsuit against senior facility reinstated on appeal

A federal appeals court has reinstated charges filed by a lesbian resident of a senior citizens residence who was allegedly subjected to “a torrent of physical and verbal abuse” from fellow residents while the staff responded to her complaints by retaliating against her.

Marsha Wetzel moved into the Niles, Illinois-based senior living community after her partner of 30 years died, according to Monday’s ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in Marsha Wetzel v. Glen St. Andrew Living Community L.L.C. et al.

Residents “repeatedly berated” her for being a homosexual and physically abused her as well, including an incident where a resident rammed his walker into her motorized scooter forcefully enough to knock her off a ramp and another where she was struck in the back of the head while alone in the mailroom.

The “harassment Wetzel describes plausibly can be viewed as both severe and pervasive,” said the ruling. “For 15 months, she was bombarded with threats, slurs, derisive comments about her family, taunts about a deadly massacre, physical violence, and spit.”

The staff was largely apathetic to her complaints. “Had the management defendants done nothing but listen, we might have a more limited case,” said the ruling. “But they took affirmative steps to retaliate against her complaints,” including relegating her to a less desirable dining room, barring her from the lobby except to get coffee, halting her cleaning services, and falsely accusing her of smoking in her room in violation of policy.

The ruling says Ms. Wetzel now eats her meals in her room, although she is entitled to meals under her contract with the facility.

Ms. Wetzel — who remains a resident — filed suit against the residence in U.S. District Court in Chicago, charging St. Andrew failed to provide her with nondiscriminatory housing and retaliation in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The District Court dismissed the retaliation and harassment claims, which a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit unanimously reinstated on appeal. The ruling states the question is whether defendants “had actual knowledge of the severe harassment Wetzel was enduring and whether they were deliberately indifferent to it. If so, they subjected Wetzel to conduct that the (Fair Housing Act) forbids, “said the ruling.

“Wetzel may be in uncharted territory, but the Supreme Court’s interpretation of analogous anti-discrimination statute satisfies us that her claim against St. Andrew is covered by the Act,” said the ruling, in reversing the lower court and remanding the case for further proceedings.


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