On July 25, 2018, Mary Walsh, age 72, and Bev Nance, age 68, a married lesbian couple, filed a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of Missouri against St. Louis senior housing community Friendship Village Sunset Hills. The complaint alleges that Friendship Village violated the federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating against Walsh and Nance on the basis of sex, denying them a unit because they are a same-sex married couple.
Friendship Village told Mary and Bev 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. Mary and Bev 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.
Before deciding on Friendship Village, Mary and Bev 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, Mary and Bev were shocked to be denied housing because they are a same-sex couple.
On January 16, 2019, the district court dismissed the lawsuit and granted judgment to Friendship Village, finding that because Mary and Bev are lesbians, they are not protected from federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination and stating that “[t]he Eighth Circuit has squarely held that ‘Title VII does not prohibit discrimination against homosexuals.’”
On February 14, 2019, Mary and Bev filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The Eighth Circuit then put the appeal on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. After the Supreme Court held in Bostock that discrimination based on sexual orientation necessarily includes discrimination based on sex, the Eighth Circuit reinstated the briefing schedule for the appeal.
On June 24, 2020, Friendship Village filed a motion asking the Eighth Circuit to vacate the judgment and send the case back to the district court, since, in light of Bostock,“[b]riefing and arguing this appeal when the outcome is a foregone conclusion would waste the Court’s time and the parties’ time and money.” The Eighth Circuit granted the motion, and the case went back to the district court.
In December 2020, the parties reached a confidential settlement to resolve the case.
Mary and Bev are represented by National Center for Lesbian Rights, civil rights firm Relman Colfax PLLC, the ACLU of Missouri, and Arlene Zarembka, Esq.