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Gay Couple Sues Diocese of Worcester for Discrimination

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

 

Two men, James Fairbanks and Alain Beret, who tried to purchase a 44-bedroom mansion in Northbridge from the Diocese of Worcester have filed a lawsuit in Worcester Superior court affirming that it, “refused to sell the property to them after discovering that the two men are gay and married, and that they would allow gay marriages at the property.”

The mansion, known at Oakhurst, is an iconic property and had been on the market for a number of years. A marketing firm in Whitinsville, Access TCA, sought to get a zoning change for the property in 2011. But the town rezoned the property in early 2012 to be included in the Heritage Zoning District. The zoning change limited the property’s usage. The Diocese had opposed the zoning change.

The Lawsuit

“Discriminating against a person who is gay is no different than discriminating against a person who is black, Latino, Jewish or female,” Attorney Sergio E. Carvajal, principal of Carvajal & Nielsen, said. “It is wrong and it is illegal.”

The lawsuit not only names the Worcester Diocese. Defendants named in the suit include the Most Reverend Robert McManus, Bishop for the Worcester Diocese; the Reverend Monsignor Thomas J. Sullivan; the House of Affirmation; Eastern Alliance Realty, LLC of Shrewsbury, the agency for the sale, and its principals, LiSandra Rodriguez-Pagan and Angel L. Pagan.

Diocese Has Not Seen It

Most Reverend Robert McManus

The Diocese issued a statement today saying that no officers have been served and they did not have an opportunity to review the suit and would have no statement until they have had a chance to review:

Given the fact that a lawsuit has been filed in Worcester today regarding the property in Whitinsville which previously housed the Oakhurst Retreat Center, all requests for comment are being referred to Reardon and Reardon located in Worcester. Since neither the Diocese of Worcester nor any of its directors have been served with a copy of the suit, we cannot comment on any specifics.

Good Faith

According to the two men’s attorney, they negotiated in good faith, invested thousands of dollars for inspections and even made a $75,000 deposit with their offer to purchase. Initially, the Diocese of Worcester pulled out, claiming a change in plans for the property, but a key email links the Diocese’s decision to their concern that the building's potential new owners would use it to host gay marriages.

Attorneys for Fairbanks and Beret claim that the following e-mail from Monsignor Sullivan demonstrates the Diocese bias: "I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop. Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers. I think they're shaky anyway. So, just tell them that we will not accept their revised plan and the Diocese is making new plans for the property. You find the language."

"Mr. Fairbanks and Mr. Beret were never rejected by any lender. At all times, they were qualified and bona fide purchasers. As the case moves forward, we believe that evidence will be produced to show that they were creditworthy and had sufficient finances to purchase the property. The claims that they were not finacially able to purchase the property are merely an attempt to shift the focus of the June 8, 2012 e-mail, whereby the reasons for refusal to negotiate were made very clear (i.e., that Mr. Fairbanks and Mr. Beret may host same-sex marriages on the premises.)," said Carvajal.

"A letter was issued by Sovereign Bank certifying that we had more then sufficient funds for the down payment on a one million dollar purchase. That letter was given to the seller's broker. The SBA will not issue a pre-approval letter until there is a purchase and sale agreement. We never got that far," said Beret in an email to GoLocalWorcester.
 

The Goal of the Lawsuit

The case is thought to be the first of its kind in the Commonwealth. There are no other reported cases of discrimination in violation of Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151B, by the Diocese of Worcester.

According to Carvajal, the goals of the suit are "to get a public declaration by a judge or jury that the defendants in this case discriminated against Mr. Fairbanks and Mr. Beret on account of their sexual orientation or perception that they would host same-sex marriages at Oakhurst. To have all defendants involved receive fair housing training and lastly, to obtain compensatory damages for the harm caused by the defenants' unlawful and outrageous behavior."

In addition to the plaintiffs, Massachusetts Fair Housing Center has joined the lawsuit.

 

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