Relman Colfax is pleased to announce the settlement of Walsh v. Friendship Village of South County, a lawsuit alleging that a St. Louis-area retirement community violated the sex discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act when it denied admission to Mary Walsh and Bev Nance because they are a lesbian couple. Our co-counsel were the National Center for Lesbian Rights, St. Louis LGBTQ civil rights attorney Arlene Zarembka, and the ACLU of Missouri.
The plaintiffs are St. Louis natives who have been in a committed relationship since 1978, and legally married since 2009. After spending months on a waiting list at Friendship Village, they were notified that a unit was available in July 2016. They paid a deposit and made plans to move in. The federal court complaint—filed in July 2018—alleges that once Friendship Village learned they were a lesbian couple, it rejected them pursuant to a “cohabitation policy” that allowed housing only to couples who had a marriage consisting of “one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”
The Fair Housing Act has prohibited sex discrimination since 1974, but few courts have read the prohibition “because of sex” to cover LGBTQ people. The complaint alleged that if either plaintiff had been a man, the couple would not have been rejected. The district court dismissed the lawsuit in January 2019, holding that the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination does not protect same-sex couples like Mary and Bev. The couple appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which put the appeal on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County.
In June 2020, after the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock that discrimination against LGBTQ people is sex discrimination, Mary and Bev’s case was reinstated in the district court, and soon thereafter the parties reached a confidential settlement to resolve the case.
The Relman Colfax litigation team included Michael Allen, Sasha Samberg-Champion and paralegals Callan Showers and Alicia Menendez-Brennan. Joseph Wardenski, our former colleague, also made significant contributions to the case.