Mississippi Funeral Home Sued for Refusing to Transport and Cremate Body of Gay Man

Mississippi Funeral Home Sued for Refusing to Transport and Cremate Body of Gay Man

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After learning Robert Huskey was married to a man, the funeral home refused to accept his body, devastating Huskey’s husband and family

Lambda Legal Tuesday announced it has joined a lawsuit against a Picayune, MS, funeral home for refusing to provide any service for Robert Huskey after his death, leaving his 82-year-old husband, Jack Zawadski, desperate to make other arrangements in the hours after his beloved spouse’s passing. The suit seeks damages for breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

“What happened to this family is shocking,” Lambda Legal Counsel Beth Littrell said. “Almost immediately after losing his husband and partner of more than 50 years, Jack Zawadski’s grief was compounded by injustice and callous treatment from the very place that should have helped ease his suffering. Following Bob’s death, the funeral home, the only one in the area with a crematorium, refused to honor agreed-upon funeral arrangements after learning that Bob and Jack were married.”

“I felt as if all the air had been knocked out of me,” Zawadski said. “Bob was my life, and we had always felt so welcome in this community. And then, at a moment of such personal pain and loss, to have someone do what they did to me, to us, to Bob, I just couldn’t believe it. No one should be put through what we were put through.”

Jack and Bob were a loving couple for 52 years who moved to Picayune, Mississippi 20 years ago to retire. They loved Picayune and felt welcome in the community. After state marriage bans were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, they married in Mississippi. Bob was in failing health, and soon after the wedding, he entered a nursing home. In late April, 2016, knowing Bob’s time was short, their nephew, John Gaspari, made arrangements with Picayune Funeral Home to cremate Bob after his death at Picayune Funeral Home’s on-site crematorium – the only crematorium in Pearl River County.

After Bob died on May 11, 2016, the nursing home provided Picayune Funeral Home with necessary information confirming Bob’s death and identifying Jack as his husband. Shortly thereafter, the nursing home called their nephew John and informed him that Picayune Funeral Home was now refusing to pick up the body and perform the cremation. Since the nursing home could not keep Bob’s body on site, Jack and John had to scramble to locate another funeral home with an on-site crematorium. They located one in Hattiesburg, some 90 miles away. By that time, because Bob’s body could not be housed at the nursing home for the hours it would take for the Hattiesburg hearse to arrive, they had to find yet another funeral home in Picayune willing to transport Bob’s body to Hattiesburg.

“John made all necessary arrangements before Bob’s passing in order to shield his 82-year-old uncle from additional suffering and to allow friends to gather to support Jack in his grief,” Littrell explained. “Instead, Bob’s peaceful passing was marred by turmoil, distress and indignity, adding immeasurable anguish to Jack and John’s loss. This should not have happened to them, and should not be allowed to happen again.”

The lawsuit, Zawadski v. Brewer Funeral Services, was filed by Lambda Legal and co-counsel Rob McDuff of Jackson, in Mississippi’s Circuit Court of Pearl River County. The suit names Picayune Funeral Home’s parent company, Brewer Funeral Services, and its owners as defendants.

You can read a copy of the complaint here.

Watch a video featuring Jack Zawadski and his nephew, John Gaspari, speaking of their experience here.

Handling the case for Lambda Legal are Beth Littrell and Susan Sommer. They are joined by co-counsel Rob McDuff, a long-time civil rights lawyer based in Jackson, MS.

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