Court Rules Boulder County Landlord Discriminated Against LGBT Family

Court Rules Boulder County Landlord Discriminated Against LGBT Family

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Tonya Smith, Rachel Smith, and their children/Lambda Legal
Tonya Smith, Rachel Smith, and their children/Lambda Legal

Property owner’s refusal to rent to same-sex couple, one of whom is transgender, violates the federal Fair Housing Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act

A federal district court judge Wednesday ruled that a Boulder County property owner violated both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act when she refused to rent a housing unit to Lambda Legal clients Rachel and Tonya Smith, a same-sex couple, one of whom is transgender, and their children, because she worried their “uniqueness” would jeopardize her standing in the community.

“This is a tremendous victory for Rachel and Tonya, their children, and LGBT people, couples, and families across the country,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said. “For the first time, a federal court has ruled that the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination prohibitions apply to discrimination based on stereotypes about sexual orientation and gender identity. This is two federal courts two days in a row that have said that laws prohibiting sex discrimination protect LGBT people. It sends a strong message: discrimination against LGBT Americans in housing and employment is illegal and will not be tolerated.

“The facts in this case are indisputable: Deepika Avanti refused to rent to Tonya and Rachel Smith because they are women in a same-sex relationship raising children together and Rachel is transgender,” Gonzalez-Pagan added. “Her concerns about Rachel and Tonya’s ‘uniqueness’ and ‘unique relationship’ were discrimination, pure and simple, and we are grateful that the judge agreed.”

In the court’s opinion filed Wednesday, U.S District Judge Raymond P. Moore wrote:

In this case, the Smiths contend that discrimination against women (like them) for failure to conform to stereotype norms concerning to or with whom a woman should be attracted, should marry, and/or should have children is discrimination on the basis of sex under the FHA. The Court agrees. Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are products of sex stereotyping.

“We are delighted with this ruling,” Tonya Smith said. “We were so shocked and upset by Deepika’s emails, that simply because of who we are she wouldn’t rent to us. We felt it was unfair and illegal, and now a court has agreed. No one should ever have to go through what we went through, and hopefully this ruling will protect other couples like us who are trying to provide safe homes for their families.”

“While housing discrimination is a pervasive problem for LGBT people, it is very much underreported,” Gonzalez-Pagan added. “In many instances, LGBT people who are either overtly or subtly discriminated against in housing do not report the discrimination because of their immediate need to find housing or due to the costs of pursuing a claim. Property owners who engage in this kind of discrimination must be held accountable.”

Lambda Legal has long fought for the rights of LGBT people and families in all areas of life including housing and employment. A day prior to the ruling, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an historic decision holding that discriminating against someone in employment because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual is a form of sex discrimination. And presently, Lambda Legal is appealing a suit against an Illinois senior living facility for failing to protect a resident from sex- and sexual orientation-based harassment.

Additional Background

Tonya and Rachel Smith are a loving, committed same-sex couple living in Colorado. They have been married for seven years and have two children, ages seven and three. Rachel is also transgender.

In early 2015, Tonya and Rachel were looking to find a new home for their young family. In April, they located a two-bedroom townhouse in the community of Gold Hill, Colorado, that seemed to meet all of their needs – affordable, lots of outdoor space where their children could play, and near a small, high quality public school. After meeting the landlord, Deepika Avanti, and touring both that unit and a three-bedroom unit on the same property, Tonya and Rachel believed they had found their dream home.

However, within hours, Avanti emailed Tonya and Rachel and informed them she would not be renting either unit to them, because she thought their “unique relationship” would become the focus of discussion in town and would harm her standing in the community. She added that she had kept a low profile for 30 years, but that would no longer be possible if she rented to them due to Tonya and Rachel’s “uniqueness.”

Handling the case for Lambda Legal are Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Staff Attorney, and Karen Loewy, Senior Counsel. They are joined by pro-bono co-counsel Benjamin N. Simler of Holland & Hart LLP.

Read the ruling here.

More information about the lawsuit, Smith v. Avanti, can be found here.

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