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The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the dismissal of a sexual orientation discrimination and retaliation case brought by a resident of a senior center.
The case alleges that the resident was subjected to pejorative verbal attacks, and even physical attacks, on multiple occasions. Furthermore, despite notifying the staff, nothing was done to protect her from the abusive tenants. The district court came down on the side of senior center as it agreed the Fair Housing Act only imposed liability on landlords for acting with discriminatory animus. However, the circuit court had a different reading of the FHA.
After plaintiff Marsha Wetzel's partner passed, she decided to move into a senior center. Unfortunately, the other members in the senior center were not happy about the fact that she identifies as a lesbian, and they let her know it.
In addition to verbal abuse, on a few occasions, other residents physically hit her and her scooter. On one occasion, she was whacked on the back of the head while the unknown assailant called her a name. And on another occasion, she was bumped hard enough that she fell out of her scooter.
When she reported the incidents to the staff, she was met with resistance, and was eventually just told to stay away from certain parts of the center.
We read the FHA more broadly. Not only does it create liability when a landlord intentionally discriminates against a tenant based on a protected characteristic; it also creates liability against a landlord that has actual notice of tenant-on-tenant harassment based on a protected status, yet chooses not to take any reasonable steps within its control to stop that harassment.
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