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Panel: Facility discriminated against transgender woman

March 14, 2022 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine’s human rights panel has ruled in favor of a transgender woman who complained that she was discriminated against when she was denied a room by an assisted living facility.

The Maine Human Rights Commission voted 3-2 on Monday that there were reasonable grounds that Sunrise Assisted Living violated the Maine Human Rights Act and discriminated against the complainant on the basis of sex and sexual orientation or gender identity.

The complainant, who initially was anonymous and has since identified herself as Marie King, 79, complained to the commission that Sunrise would not admit her because the facility was concerned she wanted to reside with a female roommate, attorneys for King said. With King’s permission, a social worker had disclosed that she was a transgender woman looking for housing in an assisted living facility.

The facility is in Jonesport, about 200 miles (about 321 kilometers) northeast of Portland in Down East Maine.

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Rhonda Chambers, the administrator for the facility, declined to comment on the case. An attorney for the facility did not return a phone call.

King said in a statement that she hopes her case helps prevent future discrimination against transgender people who are seeking elder care. Her attorneys, who are with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said the case is the first known discrimination complaint filed in the country by a transgender older adult against a long-term care facility.

“Being turned away because I’m transgender was wrong and it hurt,” King said. “It’s a relief to have the commission recognize that. I know I’m not the only person this has happened to and I hope my case leads to better understanding.”

The panel’s ruling opens the door for conciliation, said Amy Sneirson, executive director of the commission. That means the parties will sit down to see if they can find a resolution that both helps the complainant and satisfies the commission’s concerns, Sneirson said.

That process is required to happen within 90 days, Sneirson said. There is no appeals process, Sneirson said.

An investigator took the case prior to Monday’s vote and provided a recommendation in favor of reasonable grounds that Sunrise violated the Maine Human Rights Act, Sneirson said.

“She alleged that she was discriminated against on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity by being denied a housing opportunity,” Sneirson said.