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State ex rel. Sprague v. City of Madison

    Citation. 555 N.W. 2d 409 (Wis. Ct. App. 1996).

    Brief Fact Summary. Housemates declined to rent to another person because of her sexual orientation.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A city ordinance, which bans discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation is valid and applies when a person is denied housing based on her sexual orientation.


    Facts. Two housemates advertised for two more housemates. Sprague (Plaintiff) was chosen, and when the other two extended an offer to her, they knew of her sexual orientation. Plaintiff accepted the offer and made a rent deposit. After the deposit was made, the other two informed her that they were withdrawing their offer because they were not comfortable living with a person of her sexual orientation. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    Issue. Can a person be denied housing based on sexual orientation?

    Held. No.
    The relevant code prohibits any person having right of rental to refuse to rent to any person because of the person’s sexual orientation. The two housemates admit the only reason they withdrew their offer was because of Plaintiff’s sexual orientation.
    The code applies to renting housing for profit, as is the case here, so cases that deal with the right to privacy in the home or family or the right to engage in First Amendment activity free of unwarranted governmental intrusion do not apply. The housemates relinquished their right to any such constitutional protection when they rented for profit.

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    Discussion. Like discrimination based on race, marital status, and children, discrimination based on sex will not be protected by the courts, at least when it comes to real estate transactions.

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