CAMDEN, Maine — An elderly midwestern couple who stayed in a boutique hotel in Camden last spring likely were discriminated against by the hoteliers who did not accommodate the husband’s physical disabilities, according to an investigator with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
Susan and Ernest Patnode of Beloit, Wis., had booked a room at the tony Camden Harbour Inn to celebrate Ernest’s 86th birthday, telling the innkeeper over the phone that he was disabled and could not climb stairs or walk very much. Ernest Patnode passed away a few months after his May visit to Camden, investigator Barbara Lelli wrote in her report to the commission. According to the Maine Human Rights Act, a place of public accommodation must not discriminate against any person on account of physical disability.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that … the Camden Harbour Inn denied complainants Susan B. and Ernest A. Patnode the full and equal enjoyment of a place of lodging on the basis of physical disability,” she concluded.
But inn officials denied Susan Patnode’s allegations, stating that they offer “luxurious accommodations and amenities,” including an Americans with Disabilities Act “accessible suite” where they placed the couple. They said they went above and beyond to assist the couple, even though Susan Patnode was “verbally aggressive” and “highly condescending” to the inn’s staff. Officials also said that if they had known about Ernest Patnode’s limited mobility, they would have advised the couple to rethink their entire trip. Camden was “perhaps not the best destination to consider” because of its hilly landscape and outdoor activities as well as having many restaurants and shops that are inaccessible, according to the report.
When the Patnodes arrived at the hotel, they found four outdoor steps leading to the private entrance to The New Amsterdam Suite, according to the complaint. Additionally, that entrance had been blocked with construction materials and the couple had to use a different parking space on the other side of the inn, one which also was blocked by a construction trailer and often by a staff member’s car. When Susan Patnode complained to the owner of the inn that she was unhappy with the “inn’s deception” in claiming the suite was handicapped accessible, he told her, “You can leave, and I will make the hotel reservations for you,” the report stated.
An online search for reservations in that suite for this coming May averaged more than $500 per night.
On Ernest Patnode’s birthday, he stayed inside his room instead of going out sightseeing because it was too difficult for him to walk the required distance to his car, the report stated. Getting into the suite required that the elderly man walk through the dining room and reception area, past the kitchen and down a long hallway, according to the report.
“Other guests made comments and stared, making Mr. Patnode feel extremely self-conscious,” Susan Patnode said in her complaint.
The couple wanted to leave, but could not find any other hotel vacancies in Camden. They departed the inn a day early after finding a vacancy at a hotel in Portland, Lelli wrote.
In its response to the complaint, inn officials said that Susan Patnode hadn’t told them her husband could not walk about 100 feet, and that because Ernest Patnode did not travel with a wheelchair, “one would assume” that he could walk that far. They disputed the claim that the entrance to the suite was blocked and said staff offered to rebook the Patnodes to another property immediately upon their arrival and again the following day, when Susan Patnode expressed her dissatisfaction.
Lelli wrote that the facts support a finding that the inn did not fully and accurately describe the accessible features of the suite to the Patnodes and that an innkeeper is obligated by law to give enough information to allow people with disabilities to decide whether the lodging will meet their needs.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the case on Monday, Feb. 24.