“The model transgender nondiscrimination policy and public statement embracing transgender residents set a clear example for how such facilities can and should operate with respect to transgender older adults.” – Chris Erchull, GLAD Staff Attorney

Marie King, a 79-year-old transgender woman, and Sunrise Assisted Living have reached a landmark settlement in a case at the Maine Human Rights Commission involving discrimination in access to Sunrise’s facility in Jonesport, Maine. Ms. King was denied a room at the facility because she is transgender. The Commission, which is also a party to the agreement, approved the terms of the settlement at its meeting today.

Under the terms of the settlement Adult Family Care Homes of Maine (AFCH), which operates Sunrise and eight other facilities in the state, will adopt a comprehensive transgender nondiscrimination policy. Additionally, all employees and administrators at all nine facilities will attend LGBT-competency training provided by SAGECare, the leading such training provider for agencies serving older adults. AFCH will also prominently post a transgender nondiscrimination statement on the company’s website.

“I’m thrilled to see this positive outcome,” said Ms. King. “I believe the new policies will keep others from experiencing mistreatment and will help people understand that transgender people are only seeking to be treated with dignity and respect like anyone else.”

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The nondiscrimination statement on AFCH’s website will state that all AFCH facilities provide “a welcoming and inclusive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents” and specifically that staff will “treat transgender individuals in accordance with their gender identity in all aspects of admissions, placement, and programming.”

In addition, AFCH is adopting a model nondiscrimination Policy. The Policy provides that AFCH facilities “will treat applicants who are transgender and provide its living and support services to people who are transgender in accordance with their gender identity,” and specifically that “[p]lacement of an applicant/resident in a shared room setting that is separated by sex shall be made based upon the applicant/resident’s gender identity, not their assigned sex at birth.” The Policy emphasizes that “[t]ransgender women will be respected fully as women and treated the same as other women in the facility,” and provides that harassment based on gender identity or transgender status – as with any other protected class – is prohibited and staff must intervene to stop it if it does occur.

“Anyone who needs access to a long-term care facility, including transgender people, should be welcomed with dignity, compassion and respect,” said Chris Erchull, staff attorney at GLAD. “The settlement with Adult Family Care Homes of Maine addresses the profound harm Marie experienced in being turned away because of who she is. The model transgender nondiscrimination Policy and public statement embracing transgender residents set a clear example for how such facilities can and should operate with respect to transgender older adults.”

In the spring of 2021, a social worker at Pen Bay Medical Center contacted Sunrise on behalf of Ms. King, who at the time was a patient at the hospital. The facility initially said there was a room available, but upon learning that Ms. King is transgender Sunrise informed the hospital they would not admit her because she requested to reside in a room with a female roommate.

On March 14, the Maine Human Rights Commission issued a finding of reasonable grounds that in turning Ms. King away the facility discriminated against her in access to housing and a place of public accommodation on the basis of her gender identity, transgender status, and her sex, all protected under the Maine Human Rights Act. The Commission’s action followed an investigation in the discrimination complaint filed on behalf of Ms. King by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the first known discrimination complaint filed in the U.S. by a transgender older adult against a long-term care facility.

“The settlement in Ms. King’s case sends an unmistakable message that transgender older adults should be treated with dignity and respect when seeking long-term care services,” said GLAD senior attorney Ben Klein. “The joint resolution between the parties and the Maine Human Rights Commission makes clear that discriminating against an applicant because they are transgender violates the law, and the nondiscrimination Policy and LGBT-competency training required by this settlement are models for facilities across Maine and the nation to follow.”

In a joint statement, AFCH and GLAD expressed their hope that the positive resolution of this matter “will lead long-term care facilities across the country to adopt policies that ensure transgender older adults, indeed all older adults, will be treated with dignity and respect.”

“This agreement reinforces a core value shared by those who provide long-term care: that all of us are entitled to dignity and respect as we age,” added GLAD Civil Rights Project Director and Maine Attorney Mary Bonauto. “That is all Marie and other transgender older adults are asking for and it is what our laws require.”

In addition to this case, the federal Department of Health and Human Services has a pending investigation of Sunrise’s actions here under the sex discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

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