A man with disabilities has found support for his claim that he was a victim of discrimination and unfairly discharged from an assisted living residence in Richmond after living there for less than two months.
The Maine Human Rights Commission on Monday voted 4-0 to find reasonable grounds to believe James Nichols, now of Biddeford, was denied a reasonable accommodation by Richmond Eldercare Coalition Inc. However, the same panel voted to dismiss Nichols’ charges that Denise Gibbs, the home administrator, and Jill Wagurak, residential care director, discriminated against him on the basis of disability.
Commission findings are not law, but may become grounds for lawsuits. In the meantime, the commission assists with conciliation efforts.
The votes on Monday followed oral presentations in the case.
Mark Joyce, an attorney with the Disability Rights Center of Maine, represented Nichols. Attorney Alice Knapp represented the Richmond Eldercare Coalition Inc., a community-run assisted living home for people with mental and physical disabilities.
Nichols had lived at the center May 1-June 27, 2013, when he was evicted and discharged from the program, according to a report by Angela Tizon, commission investigator. She wrote that Nichols had mental disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and alcoholism.
She said he was moved involuntarily to a different room at the home after living there a month, and the change triggered his post-traumatic stress disorder since the new roommate could drink alcohol and kept open containers of urine in the room.
The report says Nichols told Gibbs the new living situation was “going badly” and he later told others he felt unsafe.
Knapp said she was disappointed with the commission’s vote.
“I don’t think the investigator thoroughly reviewed the case,” Knapp said on Tuesday.
Knapp also said Nichols’ discharge from Richmond Eldercare was appealed to the Department of Health and Human Services, and the residence prevailed there. That administrative hearing decision is under appeal in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Nichols was hospitalized June 18, 2013, following a counseling appointment. Wagurak, who had driven him there, wouldn’t to bring him back to the home after a case manager told her Nichols expressed homicidal thoughts toward his roommate, according to Tizon.
Upon Nichols release from the hospital, the center was told Nichols needed a private room or a different roommate, and neither was available, according to Tizon. The report says Wagurak assisted in finding him housing elsewhere.
“It was hard to find another place to put him,” Knapp said.
The investigator said no other residents at the home were asked if they wanted to room with Nichols.
“The facility did not do an interactive process to try to meet his request for a reasonable accommodation,” Joyce said.
Joyce said Nichols, who is in his 60s, ended up going to the hospital and remaining there until Sept. 4, 2013, running up a bill of $162,000.
“One of the things I’m looking at is the cost to MaineCare or the hospitals when the person is just stuck there and they can’t get out,” Joyce said.
Betty Adams — 621-5631