Respect Equality

Maine nursing home settles landmark transgender discrimination case

“Transgender people are only seeking to be treated with dignity and respect like anyone else,” 79-year-old Marie King said following the settlement.

Story at a glance

  • A nursing home in Maine has agreed to adopt a comprehensive transgender nondiscrimination policy after Marie King, a transgender woman, said the facility had discriminated against her in denying her a room.

  • King, 79, was allegedly turned away from Sunrise Assisted Living in Jonesport after it learned she is transgender.

  • The settlement comes just as an executive order signed by President Biden expands nondiscrimination protections for older LGBTQ+ Americans, including those in assisted living facilities.

In a landmark settlement, a Maine nursing home has agreed to adopt a comprehensive transgender nondiscrimination policy and require its employees and administrators to undergo LGBTQ competency training after 79-year-old Marie King accused the facility of discrimination when she was allegedly denied a room because she is transgender.

Adult Family Care Homes of Maine (AFCH), which operates Sunrise Assisted Living, where King had been denied entry, has also agreed to prominently feature on its website its transgender nondiscrimination policy under the terms of the settlement.

“Discriminating against or turning away an applicant because they are transgender violates the law,” reads a portion of the new policy. “Gender identity, gender expression or transgender status will not be used to deny admission, programs, or services to any individual.”

Transgender residents in facilities run by AFCH will also be treated “in accordance with their gender identity in all aspects of admissions, placement, and programming,” according to the policy.

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“I’m thrilled to see this positive outcome,” King said Monday in a statement released by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the nonprofit that had been representing her. “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.”

The settlement comes roughly a year after a first-of-its-kind discrimination claim was filed against Sunrise by GLAD on behalf of King, then 78, after she was allegedly denied a room because she is transgender. The claim is the first known discrimination complaint filed in the U.S. by a transgender older adult against a long-term care facility.

In March, the Maine Human Rights Commission said it had found reason to believe that Sunrise discriminated against King based on her sex, gender identity and transgender status — all of which are explicitly protected under the Maine Human Rights Act.

“I know I’m not the only person this has happened to and I hope my case leads to better understanding,” King said at the time.

On Monday, Chris Erchul, a staff attorney at GLAD, said the settlement with AFCH addresses the “profound harm Marie experienced in being turned away because of who she is.”

“Anyone who needs access to a long-term care facility, including transgender people, should be welcomed with dignity, compassion and respect,” he 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.”

In a joint statement with GLAD, AFCH said it hopes the resolution of King’s case “will lead long-term care facilities across the country to adopt policies that ensure that transgender older adults, indeed all older adults, will be treated with dignity and respect.”

The settlement comes as an executive order signed Wednesday by President Biden expands protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, including for LGBTQ+ older adults in long-term care settings.