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Sunset Hills retirement community settles lesbian couple’s discrimination lawsuit

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Mary Walsh (left) and Bev Nance

Mary Walsh (left) and Bev Nance at their wedding in Massachusetts in 2009. Photo courtesy of Walsh

ST. LOUIS A federal lawsuit against a Sunset Hills retirement community that refused to let a married lesbian couple live together has been settled, a lawyer for the couple said Wednesday.

Mary Walsh and Bev Nance and the Sunset Hills location of Friendship Village have “resolved” the case, said Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, which helped handle the case.

Rothert declined to discuss the terms of the settlement, saying it was confidential. A Friendship Village lawyer did not immediately return an email seeking comment. The dismissal document, filed Tuesday, simply says that “all of Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendants and this action are dismissed with prejudice.”

But Rothert said he hoped that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation would mean “we hope not to see policies like we were challenging here in the future.”

Walsh and Nance sued in July 2018, alleging that their 2016 application to live in Friendship Village had been rejected due to the community’s cohabitation policy, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Their lawsuit was dismissed last year, after U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton said the Fair Housing Act does not protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and citing appellate court precedent. “The Eighth Circuit has squarely held that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination against homosexuals,” she wrote, while pointing out that other courts had ruled differently.

But the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals remanded the case in July, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June, in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, that said sexual orientation was protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Rothert said Walsh and Nance, who have been in a committed relationship for more than 40 years, are focused “on their health and each other,” and trying to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.


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