TAMPA, Fla. (CN) – A retired Methodist minister demands $2 million from a Florida nursing home that she claims banned her from its dining room because the sight of her in a wheelchair was supposedly bad for “marketing” and upset other residents.
In a federal lawsuit, Rev. Frances P. Swartz said agents for Westminster Services, which operates the retirement community in St. Petersburg, knew full well that she used a wheelchair due to a form of Parkinson’s disease.
Swartz says it was only after she and her husband, Jim, also a retired Methodist minister, paid the $88,600 entry fee, disposed of belongings that wouldn’t fit in their new, smaller home, and moved into the facility that they were informed of the “policy” of not allowing wheelchairs in the dining room.
According to the complaint, Claire Skipper, the same employee who showed them around the facility and even inquired about whether they planned to use the dining room, dropped the bombshell when Swartz’s husband stopped by the front office to clarify their first month’s bill. (In addition to the entrance fee, residents also pay a monthly service fee of $3,400.)
As he prepared to leave the office, the lawsuit states, Skipper ended the visit by saying, “by the way, you know Francis is not supposed to be in the independent living hall.”
“The policy is that people in wheelchairs are not to eat in the independent dining room,” she allegedly said.
Swartz claims her husband took up the matter with Jeffrey Stern, who reiterated Skipper’s statement, saying, “That’s our policy. It’s what we do. It’s the practice.”
When asked the reason, Stern allegedly replied, “marketing – when visitors come, we don’t want it to look like a nursing home.”
Besides, Stern added, “She upsets other people,” suggesting that other residents worried that they would end up like the Rev. Francis, according to the complaint.
The reverend said Stern later visited her unit and apologized for “the error” in the sales negotiation process, explaining, “we dropped the ball … because the policy was not made clear.”
He allegedly offered to let Swartz attend the dining room “once every two weeks” as a compromise.
At a minimum, Swartz says the policy is clearly a breach of contract, with misrepresentations or key omissions amounting to fraud.
She demands at least $2 million in compensatory damages, along with declaratory and injunctive relief on claims of discrimination, breach of contract, fraud, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Defendants are Westminster Communities of Florida, Westminster Communities of St. Petersburg and Palm Shores Retirement Community, doing business as Westminster Palms.
Swartz’s attorney is Robert Parker of Orinda, Calif.