The company that owns a Jonesport assisted living facility that illegally refused to let a transgender woman live there has agreed to adopt a comprehensive transgender nondiscrimination policy in a settlement with the Maine Human Rights Commision.
The commission in March found that the facility discriminated against 79-year-old Marie King, who was admitted to a different facility.
Hers was the first known discrimination complaint filed in the U.S. by a transgender older adult against a long-term care facility, according to her legal team, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, also known as GLAD.
Under the terms of the settlement, Adult Family Care Homes of Maine, which operates the Jonesport facility and eight others in the state, also will have all employees and administrators undergo training provided by SAGECare, the leading such training provider for agencies serving older adults. It also will prominently post a transgender nondiscrimination statement on the company’s website.
Transgender individuals are protected from discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act so Sunrise, in essence, has agreed to follow the law.
King said through GLAD that she is “thrilled to see this positive outcome.
“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,” she said.
King, who lives in a different assisted living facility Down East, said in March that she hoped the commission’s decision would help others like her.
“Being turned away because I’m transgender was wrong and it hurt,” she 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.”
A social worker at Pen Bay Medical Center referred King to the assisted living facility in the spring of 2021, when King was a patient at the Rockport hospital, the attorneys said. The facility initially said there was a room available, but upon learning that King was transgender Sunrise informed the hospital that the home would not admit her because staff were concerned she wanted to reside in a room with a female roommate.
GLAD attorney Chris Erchull said Monday that anyone who seeks access to a long-term care facility “should be welcomed with dignity, compassion and respect.
“The settlement with Adult Family Care Homes of Maine addresses the profound harm Marie experienced in being turned away because of who she is,” Erchull said. “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.”
John Hamer, the Bangor attorney representing Sunrise, on Tuesday described the situation with King as “miscommunication.”
King never actually applied to live at the Jonesport facility, he said, and the complaint to the commission was based on a short conversation between a social worker and a Sunrise employee. If she had applied, King would not have been denied residency, he said.
During that conversation, “the issue was raised about what would happen if Ms. King were assigned to share a room with a person who was not comfortable having a transgender roommate,” Hamer said. “From this conversation, the social worker decided that Sunrise Assisted Living was not an appropriate place for Ms. King.
“Sunrise Assisted Living is happy to work with GLAD to enhance its existing policies and to provide training to ensure that such a miscommunication does not happen again,” Hamer said.