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Native American Unit Brings Racial Discrimination Case Against DHHS

Wabanaki Legal News, Fall 2010
by: WLN Staff

Maine Human Rights Commission Agrees That Case Worker Discriminated

We are representing a Penobscot woman who had a problem with the Maine Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS). Our client reported that a couple of years ago, a case worker from DHHS visited our client's home. While there, the case worker made several racist remarks. Our client told us that the case worker said that Native people are dishonest.

We assisted our client in filing a charge of discrimination against DHHS. We filed the charge with the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC). The Commission assigned an investigator to look into the case. A little later, the investigator decided our client was right.

Earlier this year, we appeared before the Commission and presented the case. The Commission heard both sides of the story. Afterward, the Commission voted in favor of our client. This means that the Commission decided that there were reasonable grounds to believe that DHHS discriminated against our client because she is Native.

The next step in the process is called conciliation. Conciliation is a chance for the parties to reach an agreement to settle the case. The Commission is part of the conciliation process. It tries to help the parties work out a settlement. Conciliation does not always work. If it does not, the person who has suffered discrimination is able to take the case to court. The law also says that the Commission has the power to go to court on behalf of the person who suffered the discrimination.

As this case demonstrates, discrimination against Native people continues. It happens in many different ways. Maine Law protects you against discrimination based upon your status as a Native American. The law protects you from discrimination in:

  • Access to and enjoyment of a public accommodation. Do others get served ahead of you or in other ways are you denied full and equal enjoyment at a restaurant, store, pharmacy, hospital, theater, swimming pool or other place of public accommodation?
  • Education. Are you or your children treated differently in school?
  • Employment. Do employers refuse to hire you even when you are the most qualified for the job?
  • Hostile environment. Are you subject to racist remarks at work or at school?
  • Extension of Credit. Do banks or stores refuse you credit for no good reason?
  • Housing. Do landlords tell you vacant apartments are not for rent once they see you?

We can help you fight discrimination. You must file a complaint within 300 days of the incident, so please call us right away. Also, it is very important to get information about the discrimination as soon as possible. Write down the specific date, time, and place when the discrimination happened. Be sure to get the name or write down a description (height, weight, hair color, age, glasses?, etc.) of the offender. Also, get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses. You are also protected against retaliation for complaining about discrimination.

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2010.2
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