7MAINE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION, SHIRLEY KELDERHOUSE, and SHAUNN PATTON, Plaintiffs,
MEGUNTICOOK MANAGEMENT AND REALTY CORPORATION and JEFFREY WEYMOUTH, Defendants
FINDINGS AND ORDER FOR ENTRY OF JUDGMENT
matter came before the Court for trial without a jury on
February 21-24, 2017. The Maine Human Rights Commission
(MHRC) is represented by Attorney Barbara Archer-Hirsch.
Attorney Patricia Ender represents Ms. Kelderhouse and Mr.
Patton. Attorney Rebecca Webber represents all Defendants. An
Amended Complaint was filed with the Kennebec County Superior
Court on September 22, 2015 alleging three counts: Count 1
against Defendant Megunticook Management and Jeffrey Weymouth
for violation of the Maine Human Rights Act, 5
M.R.S.§4581-A(B)(1) prohibiting discrimination in
housing accommodation based on race; Count II against
Rosemary Weymouth for violation of that same statutory
provision; and Count III against all Defendants alleging
violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C.
§3604(A). On January 4, 2016 this Court denied Defendant
Rosemary Weymouth's Motion to Dismiss all claims brought
against her. On January 26, 2017 the Court granted Ms.
Weymouth's Motion for Summary Judgment for all claims
brought against her, but denied the motion as to other
Defendants. The case then proceeded to trial on all three
Counts against Defendants Megunticook Management and Jeffrey
Court has considered the evidence and exhibits, as well as
the parties' written closing arguments, the last of which
were received on March 28, 2017, and issues the following
findings and Order for Entry of Judgment.
reviewing claims for discrimination in housing accommodation
brought pursuant to the Maine Human Rights Act and the
Federal Fair Housing Act post-trial, the Court applies the
McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting test. In
Dussault v. RRE Coach Lantern Holdings, LLC, the Law
Court applied the McDonnell Douglas test to a similar claim
for disparate treatment:
When a plaintiff makes a disparate treatment claim ..., a
three-step, burden-shifting test applies. See Daniels v.
Narraguagus Bay Health Care Facility, 2012 ME 80, P 14,
45 A.3d 722. First, the plaintiff must establish a prima
facie case of discrimination. See id. Second, if the
plaintiff has met her burden in the first step, the landlord
must present evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory
reason for the adverse action. See id. ¶ 15.
Third, if the landlord meets its burden in the second step,
the plaintiff must present evidence that the landlord's
proffered reason is pretextual or untrue. See id.
This analysis addresses the parties' burdens of
production, not persuasion. [***20] See St. Mary's
Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507-08, 521, 113
S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993).
Dussault v. RRE Coach Lantern Holdings, LLC, 2014 ME
8, ¶ 22, 86 A.3d 52.
setting out a prima facie case for discrimination in housing
accommodation pursuant to the Maine Human Rights Act, the
plaintiff must show that the defendant who is a person or
agent of a person having the right to sell or rent or manage
housing, unlawfully discriminated against plaintiff by
"refus[ing] to show or refus[ing] to sell, rent lease,
let or otherwise deny[ing] to or withhold[ing] from any
person the housing accommodation because of race or color,
sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability,
religion, ancestry, national origin or familial status".
5 M.R.S. § 4581-A. According to the federal Fair Housing
Act, " it shall be unlawful ... [t]o refuse to sell or
rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to
negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make
unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of
race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national
origin." 42 U.S.C. § 3604. The Federal Courts have
interpreted the Fair Housing Act broadly, finding that
discrimination in the application process and the denial of
the "opportunity to inspect, or even inquire about"
rental housing for discriminatory reasons constitute
"discriminatory housing practice[s]". Gilligan
v. Jamco Dev. Corp., 108 F.3d 246, 250 (9th Cir. Cal.
Court has held that in order to show that the refusal to show
or rent or otherwise deny housing to plaintiff must be
"a substantial, even though perhaps not the only, factor
motivating" the defendant. Walsh v. Town of
Millinocket, 2011 ME 99, ¶ 25, 28 A.3d 610; citing
Wells v. Franklin Broadcasting Corp., 403 A.2d 771,
773 (Me. 1979); Maine Human Rights Comm'n v. City of
Auburn, 408 A.2d 1253, 1268 (Me. 1979). In the analogous
employment discrimination case, Wells v. Franklin
Broadcasting Corp., the Law Court held that "even
if more than one factor affects the decision to dismiss an
employee, the employee may recover if one factor is his age
and in fact it made a difference in determining whether he
was to be retained or discharged. If an employee would not
have been dismissed but for his age, the existence of other
reasonable grounds for his discharge does not relieve the
employer from liability under the applicable statutory
provisions." Wells, 403 A.2d at 773. Similarly,
in a housing discrimination such as the one before the court,
the plaintiff must show that race was a contributing factor
to the defendant's decision not to rent to the plaintiff.
See Marano v. Department of Justice, 2 F.3d 1137,
1140 (Fed. Cir. 1993) ("The words "a contributing
factor" . . . mean any factor which, alone or in
connection with other factors, tends to affect in any way the
outcome of the decision").The, plaintiff is not
required to prove that race was the only factor in
Federal Courts have adapted the McDonnell Douglas
proof standard to claims brought pursuant to the Fair Housing
Act to require a plaintiff to show that "she is a member
of a protected class who applied for and was qualified to
rent housing, that she was rejected, and that the housing
opportunity remained available." Gilligan, 108
F.3d at 249. The McDonnell Douglas standard governs
the burdens of proof, but "it does not dictate the
required elements of a complaint." Id. To that
end, where there is no evidence that a plaintiffs other
qualifications for housing were considered by defendant, the
court does not require plaintiff to affirmatively prove that
plaintiff is otherwise qualified for housing. See Id;
White v. HUD, 475 F.3d 898, 906 (7th Cir. 2007);
Bezi v. Camacho, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74047, *28
(CD. Cal. Mar. 19, 2014) ("even without alleging or
proving financial qualification, a violation of the Fair
Housing Act may still have occurred").
pursuant to the Maine Human Rights Act, the court need not
make a finding concerning plaintiffs qualification for
housing. The court is required to make a finding as to
whether a plaintiff is otherwise qualified for a job where
the plaintiff complains of employment discrimination (5
M.R.S. § 4572(2)), and the court is required to make a
finding that the plaintiff is otherwise qualified for an
educational opportunity where the plaintiff complains of
educational discrimination (5 M.R.S. § 4602(2)(A)).
However, the Maine statute does not require the court to make
a finding that the plaintiff is otherwise qualified for the
housing where the plaintiff complains of housing
discrimination. See 5 M.R.S. § 4581-A.
Plaintiffs' burden is to prove that race was a
contributing factor in Defendants' refusal to rent to
Shirley Kelderhouse and Shaun Patton are the biological
parents of two minor daughters, "J" and
"M". Ms. Kelderhouse is white, Mr. Patton is
African-American, and their daughters are therefore biracial.
Both girls have African-American features. M is severely
disabled, having been born prematurely to Ms. Kelderhouse at
26 weeks. She weighed 1.5 pounds at birth and is confined to
a wheelchair which is essentially a modified stroller. She
cannot speak but seems able to communicate certain needs, and
she is fed through a tube. She has severe cerebral palsy, a
significant seizure disorder, and scoliosis. She has recently
been diagnosed as being terminally ill due to multiple
maladies and their effects on her lungs and heart. Ms.
Kelderhouse and Mr. Patton have a relationship that is
limited to co-parenting.
August 30, 2014 Ms. Kelderhouse contacted Megunticook by
phone in response to an advertisement for rental housing at
Townhouse Estates in Camden, Maine. She left a voice mail
saying she was interested in renting the property and that it
needed to be handicap-accessible because of M's
disabilities. Jeffrey Weymouth, who is part owner (as well as
Secretary and Treasurer) of Megunticook, returned the call.
According to both Ms. Kelderhouse and Mr. Weymouth, the
conversation was cordial and involved the sharing by both of
them of personal information. Ms. Kelderhouse explained how
disabled M was as a result of her prematurity. Mr. Weymouth
in turned disclosed that he and his wife, Defendant Rosemary
Weymouth, had lost a young child due to medical
complications, and he understood how difficult it was to care
for a severely disabled child. Ms. Kelderhouse said that they
both got "emotional" on the phone, and that Mr.
Weymouth said he would get the ramp built, and that he would
do anything and everything he could to make her life better.
Ms. Kelderhouse talked to him about J as well, and that they
wanted to move to Camden because she was interested in being
in a good school system that had strong performing arts
to Ms. Kelderhouse, the call ended with Mr. Weymouth asking
her if she wanted to go forward with the process. When she
said yes, she was told that she would be hearing from a woman
named Peggy. She testified that she felt excited, and was
sure "that he was going to help us" as her ...