On July 25, 2018, Relman, Dane & Colfax filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against Friendship Village Sunset Hills, a senior living community in St. Louis County, and its parent company, FV Services, Inc. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mary Walsh and Bev Nance, a married lesbian couple, who were denied housing at Friendship Village because they are a same-sex couple. The lawsuit alleges that Friendship Village violated the federal Fair Housing Act and Missouri Human Rights Act by discriminating against Walsh and Nance on the basis of sex.
In 2016, Friendship Village told Walsh, now 72, and Nance, now 68, that it would not accept them because it followed the "Biblical definition" of marriage and "defined marriage as between a man and a woman." Friendship Village is not affiliated with or operated by any religion or religious order; it is open to the public and does not inquire about the religious beliefs or affiliations of residents. Walsh and Nance considered seeking housing elsewhere, but Friendship Village is the only senior housing community in St. Louis that can provide increased levels of care without an increased monthly cost to residents.
Walsh and Nance have both lived in St. Louis since childhood and have been in a committed relationship together since 1978. They first heard about Friendship Village from several friends who lived there. Before deciding on Friendship Village, Walsh and Nance made multiple visits, had extensive conversations with staff, and paid a $ 2000 deposit. Over several months, Friendship Village's residence manager actively encouraged them to apply, and told them they could get advantageous rates if they signed all of their paperwork quickly and moved within a short timeframe. Then, upon inquiring about the nature of their relationship and learning they were a married couple, Friendship Village told them they could not move in because of Friendship Village's discriminatory "cohabitation policy" restricting shared apartments to different-sex couples. As the complaint makes clear, Walsh and Nance were surprised and deeply hurt that they had been denied housing because they are a same-sex couple.
Walsh and Nance seek a declaratory judgment that Friendship Village's policy violates federal and state fair housing laws, compensatory and punitive damages, and a permanent injunction against further enforcement of the policy.
Relman, Dane & Colfax's litigation team is led by Michael Allen and Joe Wardenski. The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the ACLU of Missouri, and St. Louis attorney Arlene Zarembka are co-counsel.