In what may be the first case of its kind in the United States, on March 14, 2022, the Maine Human Rights Commission issued a finding of reasonable grounds that Sunrise Assisted Living violated state nondiscrimination protections when it denied a 79-year-old woman a room because she is transgender.
The Commission’s action followed an investigation of the complaint that was filed by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) on behalf of Marie King. It is the first known discrimination complaint filed in the country by a transgender older adult against a long-term care facility.
In the spring of 2021, a social worker at Pen Bay Medical Center contacted Sunrise on behalf of Ms. King, who was a patient at the hospital. The facility initially said there was an available room, but when they learned that Ms. King is transgender, Sunrise informed the hospital they would not admit her because they were concerned she wanted to reside in a room with a female roommate.
The Commission made a finding of reasonable grounds that Sunrise discriminated against her on the basis of her gender identity, transgender status, and her sex, all protected under the Maine Human Rights Act. The Commission will now bring the parties together to attempt to resolve the matter. This process must happen within 90 days and there is no appeals process. Failing that, the case may be brought to court.
It is worth noting that other recent cases have indicated that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity may be considered discrimination based on sex, which would also violate the federal Fair Housing Act.