Rights panel finds housing agency discriminated against man suffering from alcoholism, PTSD

Posted Aug. 19, 2014, at 6:23 p.m.

RICHMOND, Maine — A Gray man with problems including post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism was discriminated against by the assisted living facility that evicted him last summer, the Maine Human Rights Commission unanimously decided earlier this month.

James Nichols had been living at Richmond Eldercare Coalition Inc., a facility for people with mental and physical disabilities, beginning on May 1, 2013, according to a July report from commission investigator Angela Tizon.

Nichols said in his complaint that on June 1 of that year, he was moved without his consent to a room with a new roommate. That person was allowed to drink as much alcohol as he wanted and also kept open containers of urine in the room, the report said, adding that the roommate’s behavior triggered Nichols’ PTSD.

Nichols said he told facility administrator Denise Gibbs the situation was going badly, but she told him he had to live with the new situation, according to the report. He asked other staff members to move him, but they said they did not have the authority to do so, and when his case manager also asked Gibbs for a change, the answer was no.

The Maine Human Rights Act states that housing managers must make reasonable accommodations when necessary to give a person with physical or mental disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing.

However, residential care director Jill Wagurek discharged Nichols from the facility on June 27, 2013.

In a response to Nichols’ claims, the attorney for the assisted living facility denied that Nichols had either formally or informally asked to switch rooms. Staff said he could have filed a formal grievance at any time but did not do so, and no one recalled that Nichols’ case manager had requested a room transfer on her client’s behalf.

But Wagurek did recall that after she brought Nichols to a therapy appointment on June 18, 2013, she was told by his case manager that he was “expressing homicidal thoughts toward his roommate,” the report continued.

“[She] felt her own safety was at risk, and decided she did not feel comfortable driving [Nichols] back to the facility,” Tizon wrote.

Instead, he was taken to an emergency room and hospitalized. Later, hospital staff told the Richmond Eldercare Coalition that Nichols could safely return if he was given either a private room or a different roommate, but since neither accommodation was available, the attorney told Tizon, he was evicted. Staff helped him find a place to live somewhere else, they told Tizon.

In her investigation, Tizon concluded that Nichols indisputably has a disability.

“Complainant requested an accommodation for his disability,” she wrote. “The requested accommodation was reasonable on its face and did not cost respondent any money to grant it. Respondent refused to accommodate complainant with a different room or roommate.”

Tizon also found that Nichols was discriminated against when he was evicted from the housing facility.

The four commissioners present at the Aug. 11 meeting in Augusta agreed with her conclusions, finding unanimously there were reasonable grounds that Richmond Eldercare refused to accommodate Nichols, and unanimously that it discriminated against him when he was discharged from the facility.

The Maine Human Rights Commission is the state agency charged with enforcing Maine’s anti-discrimination laws. Its decision in favor of Nichols means that he and Richmond Eldercare Coalition first can try to reach a negotiated resolution, but if they cannot, he can file a lawsuit against the organization.

 

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