Two Missouri women claim they were denied housing in a senior community because they are a lesbian couple.
Mary Walsh and Bev Nance of Shrewsbury, Missouri, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Friendship Village, which operates locations in Sunset Hills and Chesterfield, in St. Louis County. The women claim in the suit that the senior living community rejected their application for the Sunset Hills location because of a “longstanding cohabitation policy” defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”
Together for 40 years, Walsh, 72, and Nance, 68, have been married since 2009. After touring Friendship Village numerous times, they said they paid a $2,000 deposit in the summer of 2016.
Shortly before the women submitted their final paperwork to secure an apartment, however, they said residence director Carmen Fronczak called with questions about the nature of their relationship, the Riverfront Times reported.
Days later, Fronczak called once again to tell them that their application had been denied. A formal letter from Friendship Village followed, telling the women that their “request to share a single unit does not fall within the categories permitted.”
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jessie Steffan, who is the couple’s attorney, told local NBC affiliate KSDK that the rejection came as a surprise to her clients.
“Our clients were qualified to join this senior living community for every other reason. The only reason they were denied was because of their sex,” she said. “To our mind, that’s wrong and the law prevents that kind of discrimination.”
Still, legal experts told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Nance and Walsh could face a tough fight in court. Though Missouri’s Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, nationality and other classes, it does not protect from retaliation in places of public accommodation based on sexuality or gender identity.
According to its website, Friendship Village aims to be “an excellent resource in all aspects of senior services ― supporting body, mind and spirit” and is “guided by Biblical values.”
On Wednesday, the company issued a statement: “We have just been made aware of a lawsuit that we have not yet seen and have not had an opportunity to review. We have no further comment at this time.”