Gay couple sues Summit County for discrimination
Ryan Summerlin November 7, 2011
BRECKENRIDGE – A same-sex couple from Denver is suing Summit County government, saying officials discriminated against them by stalling the construction of their home, ultimately causing foreclosure.
But county officials and their attorneys claim retired business executives Jason Rodgers and James Hazel were inexperienced in home building and made “a mess” they ultimately couldn’t afford to clean up.
“The plaintiffs made some critical errors in their construction,” county litigation attorney Josh Marks told the jury in his opening remarks Monday. “The county held them to the same standards as they do everybody else. … They didn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, they told the plaintiffs to clean up their mess.”
Rodgers and Hazel say they want to be awarded damages that will cover what they lost on the house – more than $600,000 according to one appraisal – but for them this case isn’t just about the money.
“We haven’t hurt anybody,” Rodgers said. “All we wanted to do was build a house and live peacefully. It’s just not right for people to do this to us. Yes, I’d like our money back … but that’s OK. I’ll survive without it. I don’t even want them to have to say they’re sorry, I want to show them that they’re sorry.”
On the first day of what could be a four-day trial, Rodgers and Hazel’s attorney, Dennis 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.
The plaintiffs also claimed specific county employees discriminated against them due to religious beliefs during later disputes over their septic tank size and damage to wetlands near their house.
In the first heated day of testimony, Polk questioned Summit County environmental health manager Dan Hendershott, a member of a local church, about his religious beliefs and opinions about homosexuality. Polk argued Hendershott helped a straight woman in the same neighborhood as the plaintiffs work through similar septic-tank issues, but would not help Rodgers and Hazel. Hendershott denied the allegation, saying the two situations were different.
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 is expected to deliver 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.