It took two votes by the Maine Human Rights Commission March 23 to agree that a Camden rental company had refused to rent to a couple based on race.

The complainants, Shirley Kelderhouse and Shaun Patton, have two children together. Kelderhouse is white and Patton is African-American.

They filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission in October against Megunticook Management & Realty and owner Jeffrey Weymouth of Camden for racial discrimination after they were denied a housing unit, although they were qualified applicants, says a report by Investigator Victoria Ternig.

Of the five commissioners on the panel, Commissioners A. Mavourneen Thompson and Deborah Whitworth believed that discrimination had not occurred, according to Amy Sneirson, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission. There was an initial vote on a motion made by Thompson that indicated discrimination had not occurred, but it failed when three commissioners voted against the motion.

"We did not, in that vote, make a finding that discrimination didn't happen. There was no finding yet, because the vote failed to pass. So, another motion was needed," Sneirson said by email March 24.

In a second motion, Commissioner Sallie Chandler made a motion to find discrimination had taken place. It was seconded by Commissioner John Norman. They voted and three commissioners voted to find that discrimination occurred Thompson and Whitworth voted against it.

Weymouth's wife, Rosemary, who is the president of the company, previously said her husband is "heartsick" over the accusations.

Weymouth asserts his actions were not racially motivated, adding that his company has rented to African-American and Hispanic people before, and currently rents to a Caucasian man who has an African-American child. Weymouth said he was too busy with other projects at the time, and told Kelderhouse he could not help her because he knew she was anxious to move in a short time, and did not want to hold her back from seeking other arrangements, as his office was behind with work.

After a reasonable grounds vote, the Maine Human Rights Commission is required by statute to try to resolve the case through conciliation, similar to mediation, Sneirson said. The complainant, respondent, and the commission participate in the conciliation.

After a reasonable grounds vote, the commission has the power to bring a lawsuit in court to remedy the discrimination, as does the complainant. The parties have 90 days from the reasonable grounds vote to resolve the case through conciliation. If an agreement is reached, it is settled out of court. If an agreement is not reached within the 90-day period, the commission declares that conciliation has failed. If that occurrs, it triggers another 90-day period and both the commission and the complainant must file suit or lose the opportunity to do so, Sneirson said.

Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.