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Denver gay couple alleges mold inspector sent homophobic texts in discrimination complaints

A Denver gay couple and their landlord have alleged in discrimination complaints that a Lakewood-based mold inspector sent homophobic text messages and treated them unfairly, including overcharging for his services.

Evan VanGheem, right, and his partner, Jordan Carter
Evan VanGheem, right, and his partner, Jordan Carter, both Denver residents, are shown in an undated photo. (Photo provided by Iris Halpern)

The complaints, filed with the Denver Anti-Discrimination Office, say the conduct of the owner of Walker Environmental LLC changed last month after he learned the two men who lived in a condo he was hired to inspect were a couple. Evan VanGheem and his partner, Jordan Carter, said they were treated in a hostile manner on later visits, and VanGheem showed screenshots of homophobic texts he said he received after posting a negative review of the business online.

“It was very disheartening because we didn’t expect that here, especially in Denver,” VanGheem said. He added that it was an unsettling experience to be treated that way by someone invited into their home — especially at a time when LGBTQ rights are under attack in many parts of the country.

Together with Veronique VanGheem, who owns the condo and is his cousin, the three filed the complaints last week, alleging violations of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. The complaints allege that Shannon Walker, the company’s owner, harassed, taunted and threatened them.

Veronique VanGheem’s complaint also accuses Walker of treating her differently than other clients, including overcharging her and forcing her to pay upfront in follow-up service visits “because of my association with gay family members and renters.”

Reached Tuesday, Walker declined to discuss the specifics of the complaints, which he said he hadn’t seen yet. He said he needed to do some research to review the text message exchanges and talk to his attorneys before commenting on them.

But he said: “I’ve never had this happen to me or be accused of this because I just wasn’t raised to be judgmental or racist or anything like that.”

He could not be reached for further comment on Wednesday.

On its website, Denver’s Anti-Discrimination Office says it gives the target of a complaint 30 days to respond in writing or arrange a conference before it investigates a complaint and makes a determination. The office says it can issue findings or a “right to sue” notice to a complainant, and it also can initiate mediation, arbitration or other methods of dispute resolution.

The complaints say Walker visited the condo three times after Veronique VanGheem hired him based on an online search for professionals who conduct mold inspection and testing. The tests came back positive for hazardous mold spores.

The interactions were professional during Walker’s first service visit, Evan VanGheem and Carter said. But they said his conduct toward them began to deteriorate during the second and third visits, both in person and via text messages, after the contractor saw them together again — “suggesting to Mr. Walker that we were in a relationship and lived with each other,” according to VanGheem’s complaint.

The complaints include screenshots of messages they said Walker sent to Veronique and Evan VanGheem at different times. One message to Veronique appears to accuse her of not writing a review in a timely manner and being ungrateful, and then boasting about making “a killing on your job.” The message says, “Next time do your research!” with a laughing emoji.

It also said she should “go get some mental help, cuz God knows you need it!!!”

After this message, Evan VanGheem wrote in his complaint, he posted a negative review on HomeAdvisor about Walker. Within two minutes, he said, Walker began sending him aggressive and homophobic text messages, even though he hadn’t provided his phone number.

The screenshots show texts with phrases including “little queer,” “queer boy,” and asking crudely if the message recipient should be engaging in oral sex.

While not addressing the text messages, Walker told The Denver Post that he and Veronique VanGheem got into “heated” arguments over the work that he completed and his recommendations. He suggested she was trying to dispute her final payment, even though he had completed the job he was hired to do.

He also said he argued with Evan VanGheem because VanGheem was asking for details about the work, which Walker said he was not authorized to provide to the tenants.

“The way that the relationship ended was really jarring for me,” Veronique VanGheem said. “And I felt like what what he did to Evan and Jordan was really uncalled for and I didn’t want this to happen to anyone else in the LGBTQ community.”

Denver attorney Iris Halpern, who’s representing the tenants and landlord, said it’s important to draw attention to discrimination because it has real effects on people. Political rhetoric, she said, has resulted in some segments of society feeling increasingly emboldened to overtly discriminate.

Evan VanGheem said the aggressive messages Walker sent made him feel unsafe, especially since the contractor knew where they live. He said they asked the homeowners’ association to change their door codes.

VanGheem said he’s also working with LGBTQ advocacy groups and others to create a list of contractors that people can feel safe using.

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