The Maine Human Rights Commission ruled Monday that a Norridgewock couple discriminated against a former tenant last summer by attempting to evict her for having a service dog and then retaliated against her for filing a fair housing complaint with the commission.

The commission vote was 5-0 each on claims of discrimination and retaliation brought against property owners Oakley and Donna Brann of Norridgewock by Dawn Zammuto, whose daughter visited her home accompanied by a service dog last August despite the fact that the Branns had a no pets rule.

The rulings Monday mean a 90-day conciliation will begin, during which the parties can attempt to settle the matter without going to court, according to commission case controller Cindy Rocque.

Monetary damages are typical in such cases, said Patricia Ender, a staff attorney and fair housing coordinator at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which is representing Zammuto.

“There could be out-of-pocket costs, but there’s also actual damages, which include emotional distress damages in housing,” Ender said this month. “There can also be attorney fees and legal penalties under state law and punitive damages under both state and federal law.”

If there is no voluntary agreement for damages, the commission can file a lawsuit against the Branns on behalf of Zammuto, or she can file her own claim.


“We’re required to file civil suit in any housing cases in court that we find cause to believe that discrimination has occurred,” Rocque said.

Skowhegan attorney John Martin, who represented the Branns at Monday’s hearing, said the Branns should not be subject to the law because they withdrew their original eviction order. They evicted Zammuto a couple of weeks later for non-payment of rent.

A commission investigator this month found reasonable grounds to believe that the Branns violated the Maine Human Rights Act in their treatment of Zammuto. The commission vote Monday upheld those findings.

The investigator also found that the Branns illegally retaliated against Zammuto by starting an eviction process after she filed a fair housing complaint with the commission.

The Maine Human Rights Act makes it illegal for a property owner to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in housing for a person with a physical or mental disability. It is unlawful for a property owner to refuse to permit the use of a service animal.

Comments are no longer available on this story