Summit County wins lawsuit against same-sex couple
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE – After only a few hours of deliberation, a seven-member jury ruled in favor of the Summit County government in a discrimination lawsuit brought by a same-sex couple, who claims officials delayed the construction of their house ultimately causing foreclosure.
“We’re thrilled that the jury vindicated the county and the county staff,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said following the late verdict Thursday. “The staff has worked incredibly hard during all this to do what they could to help what turned out, unfortunately, to be some inexperienced people acting as owner/builders who got in over their heads.”
The plaintiffs, partners Jim Hazel and Jason Rodgers, said previously they will appeal the case. Attempts to contact them following the verdict Thursday night were unsuccessful.
Hazel and Rodgers accused specific county officials of treating them differently from straight couples in similar situations when resolving problems that arose with the installation of the septic system in the couple’s house and with the damage of surrounding wetlands.
The county claimed there had been no discrimination, but that the plaintiffs were inexperienced homebuilders who got themselves into a mess they could not afford to get out of.
“The plaintiffs presented the county with some real challenges,” county attorney Josh Marks said in his closing statement. “Challenges the county hadn’t dealt with before. … The county was contorting to help these guys and was put in some difficult positions, so admittedly there were some miscommunications. … Every little misstep is not code for sexual-orientation discrimination.”
Over the course of a four-day trial this week, the plaintiff’s attorney Dennis Polk built his case on the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens from discrimination and unfair treatment by government, but admitted repeatedly in court that no county employee openly expressed prejudice.
“I think I’ve shown (discrimination) at least by inference,” Polk told the jury in his closing arguments. “No human being comes before you and says, ‘I discriminated against somebody.'”
Polk, said his clients were treated unfairly from the beginning of the construction process, when they were told building permits are only issued to families.
The county only issues building permits, which are required to begin construction on a house, to general contractors or to people who are acting as the general contractor for their own house, according to county policies posted online.
Rodgers and Hazel were eventually issued a building permit.
Rodgers and Hazel, who have been together for 38 years, moved to Colorado from Florida in 2006 hoping to build a home near Hoosier Pass and retire there.
After the septic tank and wetlands issues with the county, Hazel developed a medical condition, which would keep him from being able to live at altitude. He delivered testimony this week by video deposition from the couple’s home in Denver.
Due to Hazel’s health problems, the couple decided to try to sell the house. They were unable to do so, they say, because of the economy and ultimately foreclosed.
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