Determined whether a landlord's eviction of an organization serving transgendered clients, after the organization refused landlord's demand to bar these clients from common areas of the building, including the entrance and the restrooms, constitutes sex discrimination under New York law.
For many years, Hispanic AIDS Forum (HAF) provided HIV counseling and other services to HIV positive clients from an office it rented in a commercial building in Queens, New York. When HAF began serving transgender clients, other commercial tenants complained, and the landlord told HAF that it would not renew its lease unless its transgender clients stopped using the common areas of the building, including the entrance and the public bathrooms. HAF refused and was ultimately evicted as a result. Represented by the ACLU Gay and Lesbian Rights Project, HAF brought suit under New York State and New York City fair housing laws, alleging that the landlord engaged in illegal discrimination based on both sex and disability. On the defendants' motion to dismiss, the trial court ruled in favor of HAF on the sex discrimination claim, but dismissed the disability discrimination claim. The parties appealed, and Legal Momentum filed a brief in support of HAF.
Legal Momentum's brief, prepared with the assistance of pro bono counsel at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, supported the argument that commercial landlords who evict tenants because those tenants serve transgender clients illegally discriminate on the basis of sex. Specifically, it argued that New York State and City sex discrimination laws prohibit discrimination against transgender persons because such discrimination is based on sex stereotyping, and that the law does not allow defendants to penalize individuals for failing to adhere to gender-based stereotypes of how women or men should look or behave. While New York trial courts have consistently found that state and city sex discrimination law prohibits discrimination against transgender persons, this was the first time the issue reached a state appellate court.
The intermediate appellate court reversed the decision in favor of HAF, and held that there was no sex discrimination in requiring a tenant's clients to use the restroom that accords with their biological sex. A dissenter criticized the majority for reaching that issue, because HAF alleged that the landlord had conditioned its lease renewal on excluding HAF's transgender clients from using any restroom in the building and that, the dissenter wrote, clearly constituted sex discrimination based on sex stereotyping.