Maine Transgender Woman Files First-of-its-kind Discrimination Claim Against Assisted Living Facility
The complaint, filed by GLAD on behalf of a 78-year-old woman who was denied a room by Sunrise Assisted Living because she is transgender, is the first such legal claim of discrimination brought in the U.S. against a senior long-term care facility.
October 21, 2021, AUGUSTA – GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) today filed a discrimination claim with the Maine Human Rights Commission on behalf of a 78-year-old woman who was denied a room by Sunrise Assisted Living in Jonesport, Maine because she is transgender. It is the first known discrimination complaint filed in the U.S. by a transgender older adult against a long-term care facility. The complainant is being represented by GLAD attorneys Ben Klein, Chris Erchull and Mary Bonauto.
In the spring of 2021, the complainant, who is being identified publicly as Jane Doe, was admitted to Pen Bay Medical Center for an acute medical emergency. Once Ms. Doe’s health was stabilized, the medical staff determined she did not require in-patient care and needed placement in an assisted living facility. A hospital social worker contacted Sunrise Assisted Living on Ms. Doe’s behalf and was told they had rooms available. Upon learning that Ms. Doe is transgender, however, the Administrator at Sunrise informed the hospital they would not admit Ms. Doe because they were concerned she wanted to reside in a room with a female roommate, despite the fact that Sunrise regularly places women in semi-private rooms with other women.
The claim brought by GLAD on Jane Doe’s behalf asserts that Sunrise discriminated against Ms. Doe on the basis of her gender identity, transgender status, and her sex, all explicitly protected under the Maine Human Rights Act.
“Our client, like many older people, urgently needed an assisted living facility like Sunrise,” said GLAD Senior Attorney Ben Klein. “She simply wants to be treated with dignity, compassion and understanding as she ages, like anyone else. Maine, like 21 other states, has added gender identity to its nondiscrimination laws precisely to address this kind of discrimination and the profound harm transgender people like Ms. Doe experience when it occurs.”
“The people of Maine are known for making room at the table,” added GLAD Staff Attorney Chris Erchull. “Sunrise lost that perspective by excluding Ms. Doe because of who she is. This lawsuit reinforces the core values of long-term care providers: that all of us are entitled to dignity and respect as we age.
Being denied a room at Sunrise because she is transgender also forced Ms. Doe to remain in the hospital longer than was recommended by her medical team.”
“I just wanted to be treated like a human being,” said Ms. Doe. “I don’t want anybody else to be turned away for care they need because they are transgender. I want people to understand we are people living our lives as best we can and they can’t do that to somebody.”
Research indicates that transgender older adults are as likely as or even more likely than other older adults to require long-term care, including assisted living, because a long history of exclusion and lack of care leads to adverse health consequences. Yet as Ms. Doe’s case exemplifies, transgender adults continue to face systemic and widespread discrimination when seeking care and support as they age.
GLAD Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto, a Maine attorney, added, “We get that not everyone knows transgender people and some have discomfort. In the end, this case is about common-sense values: how would we want to be treated, and how do we treat each other? Care providers in long term care facilities know how to welcome in and treat people from all walks of life with courtesy and respect. That’s all this woman asked for, and that is what the law requires.”