Your Protections Under the Maine Human Rights Act

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Wabanaki Legal News, Summer 2001

Basic Facts You Should Know about Discrimination


By Ivy L. Frignoca

Ivy received her BA degree from the University of Vermont in 1983. She graduated from the University of Maine School of Law cum laude in 1993. She was a law clerk to the Hon. Daniel E. Wathen, Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.  She is now an Associate with the Portland law firm Lambert, Coffin, Rudman and Hochman where she practices civil litigation, personal injury and torts. Her e-mail address is

In December of 2000, Pine Tree Legal Assistance Native American Unit Attorney Craig Sanborn filed a complaint in Superior Court on behalf of Diane Clement, a Shead high school student and member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe. The case was later turned over to private attorneys Ivy Frignoca and Sam Rudman of the Portland law firm Lambert, Coffin, Rudman and Hochman. That case was reported on in the Winter, 2001 edition of the Wabanaki Legal News.  The complaint stated that a Town of Perry school bus driver discriminated against Ms. Clement. This article updates you on the progress of that case and explains some types of racial discrimination that you may experience as a Native American.

In Ms. Clement's case, the Maine Human Rights Commission ruled that the bus driver had discriminated against her by calling all "Pleasant Point people" to the front of the bus for a "verbal dressing down with reference to their race" following a gum throwing incident involving only two students. The case has been filed in court and is in the "discovery" phase. That is the time when the lawyers for both sides send written questions to the opposing party to be answered under oath, take depositions (testimony under oath) of the parties and witnesses, and conduct any other necessary investigations. When discovery ends, probably in July, the case will be placed on a trial list.

Ms. Clement's case is brought under a part of the Maine Human Rights Act that states that everyone at an educational institution has the right to participate in all educational, counseling and vocational guidance programs and all apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs without discrimination because of race. Maine's highest court, its Supreme Court, has never ruled on what racial discrimination in education actually is. There is also little case law on a national level in this area. Therefore, this case may be an important opportunity for courts to speak on the meaning of racial discrimination in schools.

In addition to prohibiting racial discrimination in education, Maine's Human Rights Act provides many other protections.  For example, it prohibits racial discrimination by creditors.  Creditor discrimination occurs when a creditor refuses to extend credit to a person solely on the basis of race. In other words, if a bank refuses to lend you money solely because you are Native American and/or live at Pleasant Point or on some other reservation, it violates Maine's Human Rights Act.

The Maine Human Rights Act also prohibits discrimination in public accommodation. An owner, proprietor, manager or other employee of a place of public accommodation cannot discriminate against or refuse lodging or services to a person based solely on race. For example, if an innkeeper refuses lodging to a Native American based solely on race, she violates the Act.

The above are a few of the ways Maine's Human Rights Act works to prevent race-based discrimination. The remedies the Act provides vary with each case. The remedies can include, but are not limited to, money to compensate a victim for some types of harm, monetary penalties, and attorneys' fees and costs.

Being aware of discrimination is important. According to experts in discrimination against Native Americans, racial discrimination harms Native Americans in fundamental ways.  Discrimination eats away at the pride Native Americans have regarding their culture. It also causes Native Americans to turn to alcohol, drugs and other means to insulate them from the hurt caused by racism. Sometimes it even causes Native Americans to turn on one another and harm one another, since they feel powerless to change the white world around them.

In addition to the Maine Human Rights Act, Maine's Constitution, the United States Constitution, and federal law all prohibit various types of discrimination. If you have questions about federal and state anti-discrimination laws you may call the Native American Unit at Pine Tree Legal at 1-800-879-7463.