AUGUSTA — A Farmingdale woman failed to win the support of the Maine Human Rights Commission on Monday for her complaint that she was a victim of housing discrimination because she had a service animal.

Laurie Randall, 51, had charged that S.J. Wood Construction Co., Scene Valley and Laurie Haefele, all of Winthrop, subjected her to illegal discrimination in July when she sought to rent an apartment from them.

The commission overturned its own investigator’s recommendation and concluded 2-1 that there were no reasonable grounds to believe that illegal discrimination had occurred.

Randall reported she did not feel comfortable filling out an application because Haefele, who showed her the apartment, reiterated that no pets were allowed, even after Randall said she had a service animal.

“This is a case where discrimination has occurred at the outset, at the application stage,” Randall’s attorney, Daniel Dube, told commissioners. “My client felt rejected.”

Randall’s service animal is Benjamin, a 3.6-pound Chihuahua, and she said she offered to provide Haefele with written documentation from a health care provider.

Randall came to Monday’s commission hearing with the small dog wrapped in a sling on her chest.

Attorney Eric Dick, representing the apartment owner, told commissioners that Haefele gave Randall an application and showed her the available apartment on July 21.

“All Ms. Randall had to do was submit an application,” Dick said. “No application was ever submitted. We were never given the chance to look at that application.”


Maine Human Rights Commissioner A. Mavourneen Thompson said that was a key point in the case.

“The lack of an application by the complainant seems to me extremely important and should have been carried out to prove that person’s case,” she said.

Commissioner John Norman also voted to dismiss the case.

Commissioner Deborah Whitworth had introduced a motion to find reasonable grounds that discrimination occurred, but it was not seconded.

A July 25 handwritten note from Randall’s health care provider says, “Laurie’s Chihuahua provides a source of companionship and support, which promotes stability in the community, reducing depression and anxiety.” The author’s name was obscured on the exhibit.

“While Ms. Randall did not physically submit a rental application, in this situation, the (Maine Human Rights Act) would protect someone in her situation; respondents’ actions show a bias against animals which acts as a deterrent for individuals with service animals, and respondents did not have a policy in place in writing to allow Ms. Randall to know how her service animal request would be treated or considered,” wrote Victoria Ternig, the commission’s chief investigator. Ternig recommended a reasonable grounds finding and told commissioners she stood by that recommendation after hearing the parties’ arguments on Monday.

“This was not a straightforward case,” Ternig said. “(Randall) had a strong interest in this apartment. The sole reason she did not submit an application is she thought it would be pointless for her to apply.”

Commission findings are not law but may become grounds for lawsuits.

Dube said after the vote that he intends to file a lawsuit over the incident, probably in federal court.

“As a policy matter, this case tells landlords you can reject service animals, but hand that person an application,” Dube said. “I think they were focusing on whether the application process had been completed or not.”

Last month, the commission voted 5-0 in support of a woman whose Norridgewock landlords tried to evict her because her daughter visited her home accompanied by a service dog in violation of a no-pet policy. .

Before the start of Monday’s hearings, the commission’s executive director, Amy Sneirson, told commissioners that at least four service-animal bills are being introduced in the Legislature this year.