December 8, 2020

Christopher Vasquez, NCLR Communications Director
415.365.1337 | cvasquez@nclrights.org

ST. LOUIS, MOToday, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), along with co-counsel Relman Colfax PLLC,  St. Louis LGBTQ civil rights attorney Arlene Zarembka, and the ACLU of Missouri announced the settlement of Walsh v. Friendship Village of South County, a housing discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit – filed on behalf of Mary Walsh and Bev Nance – alleged that Friendship Village Sunset Hills violated the federal Fair Housing Act when it denied Mary and Bev a unit in the senior housing community because they are a lesbian couple.

“This has been a harrowing experience and one that I hope no other same-sex couple has to face. Bev and I are relieved that this case is now behind us and that we have closure after our lives were thrown into chaos,” said plaintiff Mary Walsh.

Mary, age 74, and Bev, age 70, have lived in St. Louis since childhood and have been in a committed relationship since 1978. They married on a trip to Massachusetts in 2009. In July 2016, they put down a deposit for a unit at Friendship Village, a continuing-care retirement community in the St. Louis area that provides independent and assisted living, as well as a nursing home.

After learning of Mary and Bev’s marriage, Friendship Village rejected them pursuant to a “cohabitation policy” that allowed housing only to couples who had a marriage consisting of “one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.” 

Mary and Bev sued Friendship Village for sex discrimination in July 2018, alleging that if either woman had been a man, the couple would not have been rejected. The district court dismissed the lawsuit in January 2019, holding that the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination does not protect same-sex couples like Mary and Bev. The couple appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which put the appeal on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County.

In June 2020, after the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock that discrimination against LGBTQ people is sex discrimination, Mary and Bev’s case was reinstated in the district court. The parties were then able to reach a confidential settlement to resolve the case.

“Housing is essential for everyone and can be a huge source of stress as we age or become more dependent on other people,” said Julie Wilensky, Senior Staff Attorney at NCLR. “No one should have to fear being turned away from a retirement community because they are LGBTQ.”

“After the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock, there can be no question that the Fair Housing Act’s protections apply to same-sex couples like Mary and Bev,” said Relman Colfax PLLC partner Michael Allen. “Strict enforcement of the law will ensure that no other family will have to go through what Mary and Bev experienced.”

“What happened to Mary and Bev was discrimination, plain and simple,” said St. Louis attorney and co-counsel Arlene Zarembka, who added:“Mary and Bev’s courage in seeking to vindicate their civil rights makes them heroes of the LGBTQ community. Now that the lawsuit has resolved, Mary and Bev can focus on their health and family.”  

“Even though we have seen increasing legal protections for LGBTQ people in Missouri, LGBTQ people of all ages continue to experience discrimination,” said ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert. “We won’t stop fighting until everyone in our community can live free from discrimination.”

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The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. Since its founding, NCLR has maintained a longstanding commitment to racial and economic justice and the LGBTQ community’s most vulnerable. https://www.nclrights.org