Judge Allows Transgender Discrimination Claims to Go Forward in Lawsuit Over Illegal Eviction of Latino AIDS Agency

October 15, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – A judge has freed the way for the Hispanic AIDS Forum, New York’s largest Latino AIDS service provider, to proceed to trial in a case against its former landlord for transgender discrimination, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

HAF, represented by the ACLU, brought suit against its former landlord for illegal eviction after the landlord complained that HAF’s transgender clients were using the “wrong” bathrooms and banished all transgender people from the common areas of the building.

“It is unfortunate that the bathroom has once again become a battleground in the fight for equal rights,” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU’s AIDS Project. “The landlord’s decision to exclude transgender people from the bathrooms and common areas was just as wrong today as it was 50 years ago when business owners in the South tried to force African Americans to use separate bathrooms.”

The court’s ruling was in response to a motion by the landlord who claimed that transgender people are not protected by the state’s civil rights laws. This court, a New York State trial court, joined other New York courts in interpreting the state’s civil rights law to include protections for transgender people. This is the first lawsuit under New York’s civil rights law that has dealt with the issue of which bathrooms are appropriate for transgender people to use. After this lawsuit was filed, New York City amended its civil rights law to provide explicit coverage for transgender people.

“By allowing this case to go forward, the judge has rightly recognized that transgender people are protected under New York State’s civil rights law,” said Kesari Ruza, of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, which is litigating the case with the ACLU as cooperating attorneys. “Transgender people no longer have to fear being fired from their jobs, kicked out of their homes or being mistreated by businesses and agencies that serve the public.”

The ACLU brought suit on behalf of HAF in June 2001 after the agency was forced out of its home of 10 years in Jackson Heights, Queens – an epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in U.S. Latino communities – because the landlord yielded to complaints from another tenant that the agency’s transgender clients were using the “wrong” restrooms. HAF repeatedly tried to negotiate with the landlord to reach an agreement that would be acceptable to all parties over the use of the restrooms, but the landlord refused to renew the lease, saying he didn’t even want the transgender clients in any of the common areas of the building.

“I’m relieved that the judge has agreed to give us our day in court,” said Heriberto Sanchez Soto, Executive Director of HAF. “As is all too often the case when people resort to hate and intolerance, the consequences of the landlord’s actions went far beyond the target of his bigotry. Because we were forced to relocate, many of our clients with HIV and AIDS are forced to travel much further for treatment.”

The case is Hispanic AIDS Forum v. The Estate of Joseph Bruno (Index # 112428/01). Both parties are currently conducting further pre-trial discovery. The court has not yet scheduled a date for trial.


About the Hispanic AIDS Forum
The Hispanic AIDS Forum provides treatment, education and innovative prevention services to New York City’s Latino population. The agency’s mission is to reduce HIV transmission and to secure timely and quality support services for Latina/os affected by HIV/AIDS. The Hispanic AIDS Forum operates three community-based offices in some of New York’s largest Latino neighborhoods: Western Queens, Manhattan and the South Bronx.

About the ACLU AIDS Project
Since the first days of the AIDS epidemic, the ACLU has fought for the civil liberties of people affected by the disease. This includes working against discrimination, as well as for confidentiality in testing, reporting and treatment.

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