Federal Anti-Discrimination Lawsuit Filed By a Victim of Bullying in Senior Housing
In 2014, Ms Wentzel, an elderly person who is openly lesbian, moved to Glen St Andrews Living Community, near Niles, Indiana. Over the next 15 months, she was verbally and physically abused by other residents due to her sexual orientation. When she complained to staff about the abuse, they called her a liar and eventually retaliated against her, forcing her to change her living arrangements and eat in her own apartment, not the restaurant. So, Ms Wentzel retained an attorney and sued the Glen St. Andrews Living Community under the federal fair housing statutes (FHA), to ensure a non-discriminatory living environment. Her lawsuit was initially thrown out of court. In 2019, she successfully appealed the lower court’s decision to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The appeals court reinstated this case, allowing it to go forward.
Landlord responsible to protect against harassment
If victims of bullying in housing succeed in holding landlords and building management accountable for maintaining a hostile environment in their facilities, it will provide the incentive for other landlords, building managers, and management companies to take bullying seriously.
We read the FHA more broadly. Not only does it create liability when a landlord intentionally discriminates against a tenant based on a protected characteristic; it also creates liability against a landlord that has actual notice of tenant‐on‐tenant harassment based on a protected status, yet chooses not to take any reasonable steps within its control to stop that harassment.
Wiegand, B., Robbencolt, J. “Bullying is not just a problem for teens: A lawsuit brought by the resident of a senior living center raises the issue of bullying among older adults”, APA Monitor on Psychology, June, 2019. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/06/jn
Lambda Legal web page discussing this case, including all documents filed with the courts—very interesting and useful reading: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/il_wetzel-v-glen-st-andrew
Relational Aggression: A synonym for non-physical bullying
Many social scientists and researchers are using the term “relational aggression” as a synonym for bullying that doesn’t involve physical abuse. Melissa Stinger, on the site Good Therapy, provides a simple introduction to this topic.
Stinger, M. “Relational Aggression: The Bullying Hidden in Plain Sight”, Good Therapy, Accessed October 1, 2019. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/relational-aggression-bullying-hidden-in-plain-sight-1018174
Here are a couple more introductory web pages I found interesting…
ologsinquito, “Why Women Can Be So Mean to Each Other and How to Protect Yourself”, PairedLIfe, November 1, 2016. https://pairedlife.com/etiquette/Why-Women-can-be-so-Mean-to-Each-Other-and-What-to-do-About-it
<p>Palting, H. C. “Adult Relational Aggression”,Hub Pages, June 1, 2019. https://hubpages.com/relationships/Adult-Relational-Aggression
This month, I spent some time searching academic sources for papers relating to bullying in senior citizens housing. I’ve expanded my search to include ‘relational aggression’ in the list of terms I use. Here are some notable papers I found:
Research Paper: Goodridge, D., Heal-Salahub, J., PausJenssen, E. James, G. “Peer bullying in seniors’ subsidized apartment communities in Saskatoon, Canada: Participatory Research”, Health & Social Care in the Community, March 2017.
This study took place in Saskatoon, SK, Canada. “In Collaboration with the local Older Adult Abuse Task Force, a screening survey of bullying was distributed to all tenants. Findings (n = 49) indicates that 39% of tenant6s had witnessed peer bullying and 29% had experienced bullying by peers. An adapted version of a youth bullying survey was administered in follow-up face-to-face interviews with 13 tenants. The most common forms of peer bullying were deliberate social exclusion and hurtful comments. The majority of respondents indicated that bullying was a problem for seniors and that bullies hurt other people. Outcomes of bullying included feelings of dejection and difficulties conducting everyday activities”
This is a pilot study, involving a comparatively small group of respondents. However, the results is consistent with findings from other sources, including our own research.
Here is a blog post reviewing this article:
Sheridan, M. “Examining elderly bullying”, Medical Xpress, June 12, 2017.
University of Saskatchewan article link: https://news.usask.ca/articles/research/2017/examining-elderly-bullying.php
Research Paper: Funk, L., Herron, R., Spencer, D., Danasneau, L. “More than ‘petty squabbles’---Developing a contextual understanding of conflict and aggression among older women in low-income assisted living”, Journal of Aging Studies, November 2018
The authors remind us that, to understand bullying, we have to look at factors beyond mental health / interpersonal conflict. It’s important to consider one’s cultural and life experiences as well. To focus solely on mental health can “inadvertently infantilise the phenomenon of relational aggression as ‘bullying’. From the abstract, “Preventing relational aggression requires increased public investment in formal social supports for older adults, challenging dominant discourses that privilege independence and recognize that the legacies of past disadvantage and cultural precocity (as opposed to mental illness or dementia) shape social interactions with and responses to others”. (emphasis added: BZ)
Research Paper: Scharlach, A. and Leaning, A. “Aging-friendly communities and social inclusion in the United States of America, Aging and Society, January, 2013.
From the abstract: “Making existing communities more aging-friendly involves physical and social infrastructure changes that enable older adults to pursue lifelong activities, meet their basic needs, maintain significant relationships, participate in the community in personally and socially meaningful ways, and develop new interests and sources of fulfillment. Such efforts can enhance bonding, bridging and linking capital, and thereby promote social inclusion”.
A long-time resident who is no longer with us, Louise, said to me, “We have two forms of entertainment here: watching TV and gossiping about our neighbors.” My building has problem loitering—that is, a group of senior citizens who loiter near the main entrance of the building for hours upon end. When I’ve asked why, they’ll tell you, “that’s where the action is…” To the best of my knowledge, no one has talked to us about enriching our lives through service (volunteering or paying job), through developing new interests and hobbies, through getting involved in the community. My experience is that you have to make a considerable effort to find these sorts of activities; no one actively recruits older or disabled people who live in subsidized housing. Most volunteer organizations in my area recruit mainly students and/or corporate volunteers; they overlook senior citizens and persons with disabilities. Nearby colleges do offer programs for resident elders, such as the Oshler Centers for Lifelong Learning, but their cost can be prohibitive for lower income people. My neighborhood used to be working-class; now it’s gentrified.
For those of us who no longer go to, or work at a college, university or corporate R&D lab, the best way to get a full copy of a research paper is to e-mail the principal author of the paper.
I always find it interesting when attorneys write about bullying:
Altizer, Betina. “Is Your Grandmother a Bully? Bullying in Senior Facilities”, Alter Law, December 7, 2017.
This article is primarily about school bullying, but it does mention bullying of senior citizens in housing as a problem.
Divecha, D. “What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Bullying in Schools”, Greater Good Magazine, October 29, 2019. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_are_the_best_ways_to_prevent_bullying_in_schools?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits
Herron, R., Funk, L., Spencer, D., Wrathful, M. A. “Assisted living facilities as sites of encounter: Implications for older adults’ experiences of inclusion and exclusion”, Aging and Society, March 2019. link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331500170_Assisted_living_facilities_as_sites_of_encounter_Implications_for_older_adults'_experiences_of_inclusion_and_exclusion
Phelan, A. “Protecting care home residents from mistreatment: on the need for policy”, Risk Management Healthcare Policy, November 19, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657805/
Trumpeter, H. Scolie, R., Westerhorf, G. “Questionnaire on Victimization on Victimization of Relational Aggression (Self-Report). PsyTESTS, 2011. https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Ft29632-000
VandeNest, F. “Bullying in Senior Living Facilities: A Quantitative Study”, Cornerstone: a Collection of Scholarly and Creative Works for the Minnesota State University Mankato, 2016. https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1600&context=etds
_____,”What is Senior Bullying”, Rocky Ridge Retirement Community, August 20, 2017. https://www.facebook.com/RockyRidgeRetirementCommunity/posts/1550050598388039
Schmitt, Kellie. “Bullying is Prevalent in Senior Living Facilities, Contributing to Depression”, California Health Report, July 10, 2017. https://www.calhealthreport.org/2017/07/10/bullying-prevalent-senior-living-facilities-contributing-depression/
Walter, J.,”When Seniors Bully Seniors: How To Handle Bullying In Senior Living Communities”,The Purple Jacket, June 8, 2019.
Young, H. “Seniors Bullying Seniors”, Right at Home,October 24, 2017. https://www.rightathome.net/blog/seniors-bullying-seniors
Handout from a conference
McCutcheon, B., Reid, A., Parkman, M. “Healthy Relationships Healthy Communities: A Community-Development Approach to Seniors Bullying”, Shift the Conversation: Community Health and Wellbeing Conference, June 8, 2017. https://www.allianceon.org/sites/default/files/documents/D8.1%20-%20Healthy%20Relationships%20Healthy%20Communities.pdf