Camden Harbour Inn cleared of discrimination allegations

By Stephanie Grinnell | Feb 28, 2014
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell Camden Harbour Inn's handicap accessible parking and entrance were part of a complaint filed by a Wisconsin couple alleging discrimination.

Camden — A complaint filed by a couple from Wisconsin alleging they were discriminated against by Camden Harbour Inn because of a physical disability has been dismissed by the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Commissioners found "no reasonable grounds to believe that unreasonable discrimination occurred," Executive Director Amy Sneirson said Feb. 28.

Commissioners addressed the public accommodation complaint during a public hearing Feb. 24, along with a handful of other complaints. Sneirson said a majority of complaints — between 75 and 80 percent — received by the commission are employment related and public accommodation complaints make up less than 10 percent of all complaints.

Susan B. and Ernest A. Patnode stayed at Camden Harbour Inn in May 2013 and filed a complaint stating they were provided an inadequate description of the Americans with Disabilities Act compliant room and access to a handicap parking space was partially blocked by a construction trailer during their stay. Ernest Patnode has since passed away.

Sneirson said proper procedures were followed to investigate the complaint, though she noted "there is no set way to do an investigation." She said when a complaint is received, it is assigned a case number and the accused is notified and allowed a response. The complainant then may offer a rebuttal. Those communications are handed over to an investigator — the commission has five — and it is their discretion on how to move forward, Sneirson said.

Raymond Brunyanszki, co-owner of Camden Harbour Inn, repeatedly stated his displeasure to the commission that an investigator declined to visit the establishment, Sneirson said, but noted "if the investigator had felt it was necessary, she would have."

Brunyanszki said Feb. 27 he "was shocked" to be notified of the complaint.

"It's a complaint that we've had never ever before," he said. "We thought there might be a misunderstanding or communication."

There were pages and pages of correspondence between the inn and Susan Patnode addressing the complaint, Brunyanszki said. Parts of the complaint did not fall under the purview of the Human Rights Commission, he said, but the ones that did were "completely incorrect. To some degree, a fairy tale."

"At the end of the day ... we were extremely happy that the commission said we went above and beyond," Brunyanszki said.

He did express concern that the investigator did not visit Camden but complimented commissioners on digging deeper into the correspondence before making their ruling. Every effort was made for the Patnodes to have an enjoyable stay, Brunyanszki said, noting he offered to rebook rooms at Grand Harbor Inn or Samoset Resort but the offer was declined. He noted a construction container was moved to another location away from the handicap parking spot during the couple's stay.

"If a guest feels like we can change something to make their stay better, we will," he said. " ... I don't know what we could have done more to accommodate them."

Brunyanszki said dealing with the complaint has been stressful as well as expensive but also a learning experience.

"We are more aware of the subject now and that this could happen," he said. "I don't think we did anything wrong but it's not a bad thing to be precise."

On a personal level, too, Brunyanszki said he was astonished to be accused of discrimination. He noted he and co-owner Oscar Verest are actively supportive of gay marriage and have hired a number of minority workers. As children, they were taunted for being gay and they previously worked in the Caribbean, he said, where white people are the minority.

"We know what it means to be discriminated [against]" Brunyanszki said. "It's always on our radar, every day. ... But we never shy away from things we believe in."

A phone number or any other contact information for Susan Patnode could not immediately be located.

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