A 78-year-old woman who says she was denied a room at an assisted living facility in Down East Maine last spring because she is transgender has filed a discrimination complaint against the home. The administrator of the facility denies the allegation.

The claim was filed Thursday with the Maine Human Rights Commission on the transgender woman’s behalf by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, according to Ben Klein, an attorney with GLAD. The complaint “is the first such legal claim of discrimination brought in the U.S. against a senior long-term care facility,” GLAD said in a statement.

Named in the complaint is Sunrise Assisted Living in Jonesport, a 24-bed assisted living facility that opened last January, according to its administrator, Rhonda Chambers. The transgender woman, identified only as Jane Doe in the complaint, is being represented by GLAD attorneys Klein and Chris Erchull, both of Boston, and Mary Bonauto of Portland.

In the complaint, GLAD claims that denial of admission to Sunrise Assisted Living because of Jane Doe’s gender identity, transgender status and sex constitutes discrimination and is a violation of her civil rights. Depending on the outcome of the Maine Human Rights Commission investigation, the complaint could end up in court.

“We filed this claim to ensure that the facilities and businesses that support people as they age will treat transgender adults with the respect and courtesy they deserve,” Klein said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. “Discrimination like this has inflicted profound harm on many transgender people in our society.”

GLAD’s complaint alleges that Jane Doe wanted to share a semiprivate room with another woman at the Jonesport facility.

Chambers, also interviewed by telephone Thursday evening, denied the merits of the complaint.

“That is not what happened,” Chambers said, referring to the claim. “I’ve never spoken to this person and I don’t know her.”

Chambers said she does recall talking to someone – possibly a social worker – from Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport earlier this year about a placement. Chambers handles all resident admissions at Sunrise. She said the social worker asked her if the person she was calling on behalf of could be placed in a private room, but Chambers said the facility’s two private rooms were occupied and that it was not possible.

“They asked for a private room and I told them I did not have a private room,” Chambers said. She denied talking with the social worker about providing a semiprivate room.

According to the claim, Jane Doe had to be transported from another assisted living facility to Pen Bay’s emergency room on March 29 for treatment of an acute medical emergency. Hospital staff determined that she could not return to the unnamed assisted living facility “because of trauma she had experienced there,” the claim says. That determination triggered a search by a social worker from Pen Bay for a place for Jane Doe to live.

The social worker contacted Sunrise and spoke with Chambers, according to the claim filed by GLAD. Jane Doe’s attorneys say that the social worker was told the home had openings for new residents.

“At some time during the referral process the social worker told Ms. Chambers that (Jane Doe) was a transgender woman,” the claim states. “Shortly thereafter, Ms. Chambers informed the social worker that Sunrise was declining (Jane Doe) for acceptance to its assisted living home. Ms. Chambers stated that she was declining (Jane Doe) for acceptance due to her concern that (Jane Doe) wanted to reside in a room with a female roommate.”

Being denied a room at Sunrise because she is transgender forced Jane Doe to remain in the hospital longer than was recommended by her medical team, according to the complaint. Klein said that his client has since been placed in another assisted living facility.

“I just wanted to be treated like a human being,” Jane Doe said in a news release from GLAD. “I don’t want anybody else to be turned away for care they need because they are transgender. I want people to understand we are people living our lives as best we can and they can’t do that to somebody.”

Klein said his client will have the option, six months after the claim was filed, to request permission from the Maine Human Rights Commission to file a lawsuit. He said the MHRC will attempt to determine if there were “reasonable grounds” that discrimination occurred. Klein said the claim could be groundbreaking because his agency is not aware of any other legal claim of discrimination being brought in the U.S. against a senior long-term care facility.

GLAD said research indicates that transgender older adults are as likely as or even more likely than other older adults to require long-term care, including assisted living, because a long history of exclusion and lack of care leads to adverse health consequences.

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