On Wednesday, April 5, just a day after Lambda Legal lawyers and their client Kimberly Hively won a 7th Circuit Court ruling declaring that federal law — Title VII — protects lesbians and gays from employment discrimination (see Page 18) — a district court judge in Colorado ruled that the federal Fair Housing Act protects LGBT people against discrimination, too.
Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said it is the first time a federal court has ruled that the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination prohibitions apply to discrimination based on stereotypes about sexual orientation and gender identity.
U.S District Judge Raymond P. Moore ruled that a Boulder County property owner violated both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to rent a housing unit to Rachel and Tonya Smith, a same-sex couple, one of whom is transgender, and their children, because she worried their “uniqueness” would jeopardize her standing in the community.
“This is a tremendous victory for Rachel and Tonya, their children, and LGBT people, couples and families across the country,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “This is two federal courts two days in a row that have said that laws prohibiting sex discrimination protect LGBT people. It sends a strong message: discrimination against LGBT Americans in housing and employment is illegal and will not be tolerated.”
Gonzalez-Pagan said the facts in the case “are indisputable: Deepika Avanti refused to rent to Tonya and Rachel Smith because they are women in a same-sex relationship raising children together and Rachel is transgender.
“Her concerns about Rachel and Tonya’s ‘uniqueness’ and ‘unique relationship’ were discrimination, pure and simple, and we are grateful that the judge agreed,” he added.
In the court’s opinion Judge Moore wrote: “In this case, the Smiths contend that discrimination against women (like them) for failure to conform to stereotype norms concerning to or with whom a woman should be attracted, should marry and/or should have children is discrimination on the basis of sex under the FHA. The court agrees. Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are products of sex stereotyping.”
Tonya Smith said she and her family are “delighted with this ruling. We were so shocked and upset by Deepika’s emails, that simply because of who we are she wouldn’t rent to us. … No one should ever have to go through what we went through, and hopefully this ruling will protect other couples like us who are trying to provide safe homes for their families.”
Gonzalez-Pagan said that while anti-LGBT discrimination is housing is a pervasive problem “it is very much underreported. In many instances, LGBT people who are either overtly or subtly discriminated against in housing do not report the discrimination because of their immediate need to find housing or due to the costs of pursuing a claim. Property owners who engage in this kind of discrimination must be held accountable.”
In addition to Kimberly Hively’s victory in the 7th Circuit Court on Tuesday, Lambda Legal is currently appealing a suit against an Illinois senior living facility for failing to protect a resident from sex- and sexual orientation-based harassment.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 7, 2017.