September 1, 2010
Scott Schoettes, HIV project director (national position).
Little Rock, Ark. -- Lambda Legal announced today it has settled its lawsuit on behalf of an HIV-positive retired university provost and former minister against Fox Ridge, a North Little Rock assisted living facility.
The Reverend Dr. Robert Franke relocated to Little Rock to be closer to his daughter, Sara Franke Bowling, and moved in to Fox Ridge after fulfilling residency requirements that included submission of medical evaluation forms from a local physician. The next day, however -- after realizing Dr. Franke is HIV-positive -- Fox Ridge officials abruptly ejected Dr. Franke from the facility. With the assistance of Lambda Legal, Franke and Bowling sued under the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and similar state laws.
"While we can't discuss the specific terms of the settlement, I can say we're quite pleased to have settled this matter," said Dr. Franke. "We firmly believe that as a result of our having brought this lawsuit, retired people in Arkansas who have HIV are less likely to face this kind of discrimination in the future."
The family's attorney echoed those sentiments: "Dr. Franke's case has already had an impact on the training of those responsible for enforcing Arkansas's fair housing laws, so awareness will continue to grow that people with HIV who need to move into assisted living should be treated the same as everyone else," said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project staff attorney for Lambda Legal. "The fact is, Dr. Franke never posed a health risk to anyone at Fox Ridge. The days are long over when a person could hide behind ignorance about HIV as an excuse to throw someone out on the street."
Fox Ridge attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit last July. But in August, Judge Garnett Thomas Eisele of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas denied that motion and cleared the way for the case to proceed to trial in August 2010. As the trial date approached, however, the parties reached a settlement, leading to dismissal of the case today.
"Recently, I received an email from a friend who works as the activity director at an independent living facility in town," said Sara Bowling. "She told me that most of the staff at her facility were being educated and trained about HIV and indicated that our case was described to the staff. I can't tell you how happy this news has made my father and me."
Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Staff Attorney, and Kenneth Upton, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney, are handling the case for Lambda Legal. They were joined by co-counsel Gary L. Sullivan, formerly of the Tripcony Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas. The case is Robert G. Franke and Sara Franke Bowling v. Parkstone Living Center, Inc., dba Fox Ridge at North Little Rock.