AUBURN — A Lewiston woman who was transitioning from being male to female is suing Denny's Restaurant in Auburn, claiming it discriminated against her when it barred her from the women's bathroom.
Brianna Freeman, 44, filed a civil suit Thursday in Androscoggin County Superior Court against Realty Resources Hospitality, doing business as Denny's of Auburn.
Freeman said she is a regular customer at the 211 Court St. restaurant and meets friends there for meals three to four times a week. In June or July 2007, Freeman met with the restaurant manager and explained that she was using the women's bathroom in accordance with her female gender identity, which was part of her medically recommended gender transition process. Freeman wears women's clothing, make-up, jewelry and perfume.
That manager, Ginger Smith, told Freeman she would be allowed to continue using the women's bathroom.
In October 2007, a new manager told Freeman she could no longer use the women's bathroom because Denny's perceived her as biologically male. She has been prohibited from using the women's room since because Denny's personnel view her as a man, the suit says.
Freeman continues to visit the restaurant, but has been forced to reduce the amount of time she spends there because of the new restriction, which poses a health and safety risk to her.
She was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder in 2007, "a rare but serious medical condition listed in a manual of mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association," the suit says. The disorder is characterized by persistent and often intense discomfort with one's assigned sex and with one's primary and secondary sex characteristics, the suit says. This conflict can create intense emotional pain and suffering that is intractable, severe and often incapacitating. If left medically untreated, this condition can result in dysfunction, debilitating depression and, for some people, incidents of self-harm, including suicide.
Freeman claims she was discriminated against based on her sexual orientation, a violation of state law, by not allowing her use of a public accommodation. She claims Denny's discriminated against her use of public accommodation based on her disability, also a violation of state law.
Freeman is seeking to have the court order Denny's to allow her to use the women's bathroom and award her civil penal, compensatory and punitive damages, including damages for mental anguish and emotional distress. She also is seeking to have the court order Denny's to pay her legal expenses.
The Maine Human Rights Commission ruled there were reasonable grounds to believe that Denny's discriminated against Freeman on the basis of sexual orientation, but not on the basis of disability.
Phone calls to Denny's for comment were not returned Friday.