Lambda Legal Mourns Passing of Former Plaintiff, Dr. Robert Franke

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"Dr. Franke’s courageous stand against the discrimination he experienced as a senior living with HIV paved the way for just and fair treatment."
December 28, 2011
Scott Schoettes

“Dr. Franke’s courageous stand against the discrimination he experienced as a senior living with HIV paved the way for just and fair treatment for all seniors living with HIV as they enter elder care."

(Little Rock, AR, December 28, 2011) – The Rev. Dr. Robert Franke, a retired university provost, Unitarian-Universalist minister and Lambda Legal client, died on Monday, December 26, at the age of 78. Dr. Franke was Lambda Legal’s client in the 2009 case Franke v. Parkstone Living Center, Inc., filed after Dr. Franke was evicted from Parkstone’s assisted living facility, Fox Ridge of North Little Rock, because he had HIV. The case was settled in September 2010.

“Dr. Franke’s courageous stand against the discrimination he experienced as a senior living with HIV paved the way for just and fair treatment for all seniors living with HIV as they enter elder care,” said Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal HIV Project Director. "He was an educator through and through. He never had any desire to draw attention to himself—or his medical condition—but he was willing to do whatever was necessary to make his terrible experience a ‘teachable moment,’ to help ensure that no other senior living with HIV suffered the kind of discrimination he did."

Dr. Robert Franke relocated to Little Rock to be closer to his daughter, Sara Franke Bowling, and moved in to Fox Ridge after fulfilling residency requirements that included submission of medical evaluation forms from a local physician. The next day, however – after realizing Dr. Franke was HIV-positive – Fox Ridge officials abruptly ejected Dr. Franke from the facility. With the assistance of Lambda Legal, Franke and Bowling sued under the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and similar state laws. The parties settled shortly after attorneys for Fox Ridge took the deposition of Dr. Franke and the other family members involved.

The importance of Dr. Franke’s stand against discrimination has been acknowledged by many. Among other things, Dr. Franke was recognized for his contributions in the battle against HIV stigma and discrimination at a 2010 White House conference on HIV and aging.

"Dr. Franke's case quickly influenced the training of those responsible for enforcing Arkansas's fair housing laws, and awareness continues to grow that people with HIV who need to move into assisted living should be treated the same as everyone else,” said Lambda Legal Supervising Senior Staff Attorney Kenneth Upton, who joined Schoettes in representing Dr. Franke. “Dr. Franke was a gentle man and a courageous client. We are honored to have known and worked with him.”

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Contact Info

Press contact:  Tom Warnke,  Email: twarnke@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

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