AUBURN — A judge rejected an effort by Denny's to dismiss a case against the local restaurant brought by a transgendered woman who was denied use of the women's restroom. The ruling clears the way for the case to continue to trial.
Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice William Brodrick wrote that the Maine Human Rights Act is aimed at preventing discrimination in public accommodation on account of sexual orientation. The law goes on to define sexual orientation as “a person's actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity or expression.”
Brodrick wrote: “The court bases its decision on the plain language of the statute and concludes that, when viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, Ms. Freeman has adequately plead a claim that Denny's prohibited her from using the women's restroom because of her sexual orientation.”
Jennifer Levi, a Boston lawyer who is representing Freeman, said she was pleased by the judge's ruling. She believes this case is the first test of the 2005 Maine law and could set a precedent.
Patrick Mellor, a Rockland attorney representing Denny's, declined to comment on the specifics of Brodrick's decision, but said he was hopeful the two sides would be able to reach agreement.
Freeman brought her complaint first to the Maine Human Rights Commission, whose investigator found reasonable grounds for the basis of her complaint.
Brianna Freeman, previously Bruce, 45, of Lewiston filed a lawsuit last year against Realty Resources Hospitality, doing business as Denny's Restaurant at 211 Court St., where she had been a regular customer.
She was refused use of the women's bathroom at the restaurant in October 2007. Using the women's bathroom was part of her medically recommended gender transition process, she wrote in court papers.
She wears women's clothing, makeup, jewelry and perfume.
In a related ruling, Justice Brodrick granted the restaurant owner's other motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim in regard to disability and sexual discrimination. Nevertheless, the case will proceed to trial on the discrimination in public accommodation on account of sexual orientation complaint.
Denny's had asked for a jury trial, but after Freeman changed her complaint withdrawing her request for compensatory and punitive damages, the judge rejected the restaurant's motion for a jury trial.