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Trans Woman & Nursing Home Reach Landmark Settlement After Complaint

Marie King

Marie King and a Maine assisted living facility reached a settlement Monday after King accused the facility of discrimination because she is transgender.

The 79-year-old filed her complaint in October with the state’s Human Rights Commission. In it, she alleges that the Sunrise Assisted Living facility would not admit her due to her gender identity, according to the LGBTQ+ rights group GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, which submitted the complaint on King’s behalf.

“I’m thrilled to see this positive outcome,” King said in a news release. “I believe the new policies will keep others from experiencing mistreatment and will help people understand that transgender people are only seeking to be treated with dignity and respect like anyone else.”

This is the first known discrimination complaint by a trans elder against such a facility, according to GLAD.

“The model transgender nondiscrimination policy and public statement embracing transgender residents set a clear example for how such facilities can and should operate with respect to transgender older adults,” said Chris Erchull, a staff attorney with the organization.

The settlement does not create a binding legal precedent, NBC News reports. However, legal experts still believe that it will contribute to other facilities that they must obey state and federal antidiscrimination laws that protect trans people.

The settlement was negotiated by the commission along with GLAD and the Adult Family Care Homes of Main, the company that owns Sunrise.

The company did not admit guilt as part of the settlement, NBC News reports. It still denies discriminating against King. It will provide $1,000 to King and $8,500 for GLAD’s attorney fees.

As part of the settlement the company will also have a policy prohibiting discrimination against trans people and the company’s employees will undergo training by SAGECare on working with transgender people. The program is run by the LGBTQ+ rights group SAGE, which works with older queer people.  

“The settlement in Ms. King’s case sends an unmistakable message that transgender older adults should be treated with dignity and respect when seeking long-term care services,” GLAD senior attorney Ben Klein said. “The joint resolution between the parties and the Maine Human Rights Commission makes clear that discriminating against an applicant because they are transgender violates the law, and the nondiscrimination Policy and LGBT-competency training required by this settlement are models for facilities across Maine and the nation to follow.”

“SAGE applauds the forward looking and groundbreaking settlement in this case and the courage of Ms. King in challenging the discrimination that she faced. This agreement — including a model transgender nondiscrimination policy — sets a new standard for how long-term care settings across Maine and across the nation can and should approach providing culturally competent care to transgender elders,” Aaron Tax, managing director of government affairs and policy advocacy at SAGE, said in a statement to The Advocate.

The case began last year when a social worker at Pen Bay Medical Center had tried to find King placement at Sunrise. King had been at the center receiving medical care. According to the complaint, a social worker at Sunrise told Pen Bay that it had beds available. However, when officials the facility found out that King was trans, they told her she could not be admitted and live with a cisgender woman roommate.

An attorney with the law office representing Adult Family Care Homes of Maine told NBC News in an email that the facility’s social worker said Sunrise wasn’t the best fit because a cisgender woman may be “not comfortable having a transgender roommate.”

“Sunrise Assisted Living would not have denied Ms. King residency based on her transgender status had she applied for residency. Ms. King just never applied,” the attorney, John K. Hamer, wrote. He added that the facility is “happy” to have the training “to ensure that such a miscommunication does not happen again.”

Sunrise is still under investigation by the federal Department of Health and Human Services for possibly violating provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which courts have understood to include prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity at health care facilities receiving federal dollars.

A study by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute estimates there are more than 170,000 transgender older adults in the U.S.

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