In Denver on Wednesday, a federal court ruled for the first time that refusing to rent a dwelling to someone because the prospective renter does not conform to gender stereotype norms (e.g., because a person dresses or acts in a way, or is attracted to, married to, and/or has children with someone, that does not conform with stereotype norms associated with that person’s biological gender) constitutes sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”).
In 2015, Tonya and Rachel Smith (pictured left) were looking to move from their home in Erie, Colorado. The Smiths are a same-sex couple with two children, and Rachel is a transgender woman (meaning that Rachel is biologically a man but identifies as a woman). They found a rental property on Craigslist located in the Boulder County mountain town of Gold Hill. Tonya responded to the advertisement and emailed the owner. In her email, Tonya discussed her family, including mentioning that Rachel is transgender. The Smiths met with the owner that evening. In emails to Tonya after the Smiths visited the Gold Hill property, the owner stated that she would not rent to the Smiths because of concerns regarding their children, noise, and because their “uniqueness” and “unique relationship” would become the town focus and would jeopardize the owner’s “low profile” in the community. The owner continued to attempt to rent the Gold Hill property. The Smiths sued the owner, claiming, among other things, discrimination based on sex in violation of the FHA.
The FHA prohibits refusing to rent or to negotiate for the rental of a dwelling space on the basis of certain characteristics, including sex, as well as statements indicating such discrimination. To this point, the Tenth Circuit has declined to extend FHA protections to discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or a person being transgender. But the Smiths did not bring their sex discrimination claim under these theories; instead, their claim was brought under the theory of sex stereotyping. In their motion for summary judgment, the Smiths contended that discrimination against women for not conforming to gender stereotype norms concerning to or with whom a woman should be attracted, should marry, and/or should have children is sex discrimination in violation of the FHA. They also contended that discrimination against a transgender person because that person does not conform with the stereotypical norms ascribed to that person’s biological gender (e.g., how a biological male should dress or act) constitutes sex discrimination in violation of the FHA. The Smiths’ motion was unopposed.
Judge Raymond P. Moore of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado agreed with both contentions and granted the Smiths’ motion for summary judgment. The court was careful to state, however, that it had not ruled that discriminating against Rachel solely because she is transgender or against the Smiths solely because they’re a same-sex couple violated the FHA, as the Smiths’ sex discrimination claim did not include such allegations, and the Smiths’ motion for summary judgment was not based on those theories.
The case is Smith v. Avanti.