Group using discrimination lawsuit case to call for changes in state law

Couple says insurance adjuster low-balled claim after tropical storm damage

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. - A discrimination lawsuit case in Fernandina Beach involving a gay couple and an insurance company accused of bias now has one Florida advocacy group calling for changes in state law.

The couple's home had damage from Tropical Storms Beryl and Debbie last summer, and they claim an independent insurance adjuster hired by their insurance company, Florida Peninsula, low-balled their claim because they were gay.

The couple is suing. Their attorney says the insurance company is trying to dismiss the case, but the group Equality Florida is trying to use the allegations in this case as an example of why new anti-discrimination laws are needed in Florida.

Dr. Holly Hamilton said she had no idea being gay could keep her from collecting an insurance claim. In November, she talked about what she and her partner have been going though in trying to collect on a claim for damage done during the two tropical storms.

She said an adjuster hired by Florida Peninsula Insurance Company wanted nothing to do with them because they are a gay couple living together as life partners.

"I was astonished. I was absolutely astonished," Hamilton said in November. "I did not think that type of hatred could make someone do their job so poorly."

Hamilton is still trying to collect thousands in insurance claims, and filed a suit claiming breach of contract, bad faith and infliction of emotional distress.

Equality Florida is weighing in on the case. It's one of the state's largest civil rights organizations dedicated to securing gay rights. It's based in Tallahassee and has been around about 16 years. It released a statement that reads, "Discrimination has no place in our state, especially when it comes to putting lives back together after natural disasters."

The group goes on to say as more and more companies adopt policies banning anti-gay discrimination, Florida law fails to provide statewide protection.

Equality Florida says it is working with state lawmakers to introduce legislation this session that would ban practices like this from happening.

The couple's attorney, Jeffrey Greyber, says this action by Equality Florida is important.

"I don't think there is any place for sexual orientation discrimination, or any discrimination for that matter, especially in what is suppose to be professional settings as insurance claims adjustment and investigations," Greyber said.

Florida Peninsula Insurance Company denies the allegations of bias. It issued this statement: "We concur, discrimination has no place in our state or society. Florida Peninsula's number one goal is to treat all customers fairly and honestly, and we do. Unfortunately, Ms. Hamilton's attorneys are trying to make an insurance claim dispute over the amount required to repair her home into something that is simply not true."

Florida Peninsula has asked the court to dismiss all allegations unrelated to the property insurance claim.

Hamilton and her partner are still waiting for their day in court, and are still waiting for their home to be repaired.

"I really felt like people have differences, but this is my home, this is where I live, and I did not ask for this," Hamilton said.

The insurance company is still trying to dismiss the case, but no court date has been set yet on the motion to dismiss.

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