Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mass. trans couple settles discrimination case

by Hannah Clay Wareham
Bay Windows
Friday Jan 15, 2010

A housing discrimination case brought by a Massachusetts transgender couple against landlords and a real estate agent of a rental property in Oxford, MA, has recently been settled.

Samantha J. Cornell, a transgender woman, and her spouse Andrea V. Boisseau, who was born with an intersex condition, were awarded $6,000 in damages and attorney’s fees, even though the defendants did not admit any wrongdoing in the spring 2008 incident.

Cornell and Boisseau began the search for a new apartment after their landlord lost his building in foreclosure. They found a rental property in Oxford, MA, and viewed the apartment with a real estate agent. The agent then called them a few days later to inform the couple that the apartment had been rented to a "straight, single male."

A subsequent investigation conducted by the Worcester Fair Housing Project at the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts (LACCM) found evidence that suggested the couple had been illegally discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, and disability. These claims were included in the lawsuit brought against the landlords and real estate agent. Cornell and Boisseau also became homeless for a significant period of time after being refused the rental property.

"Advocates are working to amend the state’s anti-discrimination laws to explicitly add gender identity and expression as a protected category, but people should realize that the existing law’s prohibition of sex and disability discrimination may offer protection for transgender individuals," Jane L. Edmonstone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said.

Massachusetts’ 1989 anti-discrimination law protects lesbian, gay, and bisexual people (and people perceived as such) from discrimination in education, employment, services, credit, places of public accommodation, and housing. The law does not, however, include gender identity or expression.

"We filed this case because we believed what happened to us was discriminatory and based on biased perceptions of our sex," Boisseau said. "We are pleased that the case has resolved and hope it shows that everyone, regardless of gender identity, has a right to equal housing."

Along with the $6,000 settlement, the real estate agent in question has been ordered to undergo fair housing training.

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