A Jonesport assisted-living facility discriminated against a prospective resident for being transgender, the Maine Human Rights Commission decided Monday.

Marie King, 79, was hospitalized and looking for somewhere to live in March 2021. A hospital social worker made a call to Sunrise Assisted Living, where they had “semi-private rooms” and where female residents are placed with a female roommate, according to a complaint King filed with the commission that October. After learning King was transgender, the complaint stated, an administrator for Sunrise told the social worker the facility was “declining Ms. (King) for acceptance due to her concern that Ms. (King) wanted to reside in a room with a female roommate.”

During an online meeting of the commission Monday, attorneys for both King and Sunrise focused on a statement the administrator made about a hypothetical roommate who might not be comfortable living with a transgender woman.

“This is a case in which there is ample and, in fact, far greater than ample evidence of discrimination on the basis of Ms. King’s transgender status,” said King’s attorney, Bennett Klein, who works for the GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders law firm based in Boston.

Attorney John Hamer for Sunrise said his clients “strenuously deny” that they discriminated against King, saying she never submitted a formal application that they could deny. Hamer also said that the social worker “jumped to the conclusion that (Sunrise) didn’t want her,” and that had the social worker followed up there could’ve been more rooms available for King later that year.

Commission investigator Kit Thomson Crossman, who wrote a report on King’s discrimination claim, said Sunrise’s defense was inconsistent throughout the investigation. At one point, the facility said it was concerned about suicidal ideations King’s social worker mentioned. At another point, the facility said it was concerned with the social worker’s inquiries about private rooms.


Thomson Crossman also told the commission that it wasn’t a formal denial of an application that constitutes as discrimination but rather the fact that this phone call made it clear Sunrise wasn’t a safe place for King to be.

“If this was another protected class, it might seem a lot clearer,” Thomson Crossman said. “If this was somebody saying, ‘I’m not sure that a white roommate would be comfortable with a Black roommate’ or somebody who is able-bodied saying, ‘Oh, I’m not sure that that person would be comfortable with a person with a disability’ … those might feel a bit clearer than it does, but it seemed fairly clear to me, given the facts presented in this case.”

The commission voted 3-2 to issue a finding of “reasonable grounds to believe (Sunrise) discriminated against (King) on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Commissioners Jill Duson, Jefferson Ashby and Edward David voted in favor.

“It’s just absolutely clear to me that this business of not having submitted a formal application … is a reasonable thing not to waste your time on,” David said.

Commissioners Julie O’Brien and Deborah Whitworth voted against the motion.


“Without following process, we can’t predict the outcome,” Whitworth said. “The application wasn’t formally submitted. We don’t know what the outcome would’ve been.”

Now that the Human Rights Commission has found Sunrise did discriminate against King, the two will enter a conciliation proceeding. If they’re unable to reach an agreement, attorneys for King said they’re prepared to go to court.

According to King’s October complaint, she was able to find another assisted-living home to move into in July.

GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders issued a news release Monday saying the ruling is the first of its kind in the United States.

“Being turned away because I’m transgender was wrong and it hurt,”  King said in the release. “It’s a relief to have the Commission recognize that. I know I’m not the only person this has happened to, and I hope my case leads to better understanding.”

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