Maine Organization Devoted to Training Service Dogs for Disabled Veterans and Its Volunteers Sue Maine Mall for Discriminatory Practices and Harassment

Mission Working Dogs and ten individual Plaintiffs file suit against the Maine Mall for harassing, humiliating, intimidating and discriminating against disabled Mainers who have service animals

Lewiston, ME – Today the Maine nonprofit organization, Mission Working Dogs, its founder and nine of its volunteers filed a lawsuit in Maine Federal Court against the corporate entities that own and operate the Maine Mall for violating their civil rights and for false imprisonment. The case arises due to the serious mishandling of an incident last summer that resulted in the public humiliation, illegal detention and ejection of the Plaintiffs from the Maine Mall.

In their complaint, the Plaintiffs explain how their group, comprised of disabled veterans, children, disabled adults and volunteers, were enjoying the Maine Mall on May 7, 2022, with service animals when the Maine Mall’s security personnel approached them aggressively and
yelled at them to leave because they had dogs.

Despite Mission Working Dogs’ founder and president, Christina Gardner, explaining to the Maine Mall’s employees that they had every right like any member of the public to be in the Mall with service animals under the law, the Maine Mall told the Plaintiffs that it can “make its own rules.” During this incident, the Maine Mall admitted to Plaintiffs that they eject people with service animals “all the time” if they don’t have ‘certificates.’ Certificates for service animals are not required under either Maine or Federal law, and requiring disabled individuals to have ‘certificates’ for their service animals has long been illegal.

Using its own illegal rules, the Maine Mall’s security guards asked Plaintiffs invasive, illegal questions about their private health, unlawfully detained and publicly humiliated them, and threatened them with criminal arrest if they asserted their rights to be allowed to enjoy the same
rights as non-disabled customers. Plaintiffs were ultimately ejected from the Maine Mall on May 7, 2022, with the backing of the South Portland Police Department, even though they were informed that the Maine Mall was violating Plaintiffs’ civil rights.

“I fought for this country in Iraq and should be able to walk with my service dog, Eleanor, in the Maine Mall like anyone else,” said Joshua Gould, one of the named Plaintiffs and a disabled veteran. “Having been a member of the Military Police in the Marines and the Maine
Department of Public Safety, I understand the importance of respecting a person’s civil rights. The way the Maine Mall blatantly and intentionally violated the law was shocking and disappointing. Disabled people should not be treated like criminals because they have service

“As the founder and president of Mission Working Dogs, as well as a disabled veteran with a service animal myself, I understand how essential it is for disabled people to be able to bring their well-trained service animals for support out in the community,” said Christina Gardner. “I have personally been harassed and discriminated against for having my service animal, Douglas, with me in the Maine Mall multiple times, and I know I’m not alone. Enough is enough, and the law is clear. The Maine Mall needs to do better for disabled customers, and we are taking a stand so that this does not happen to anyone else again.”

“Skelton, Taintor and Abbott and I are honored to represent the Plaintiffs in their civil rights lawsuit against the Maine Mall,” said attorney Amy Dieterich. “It is a foundational principle of civil rights law that people with disabilities should be treated equally and with respect. The
Maine Mall is failing disabled Mainers, and we hope this lawsuit will shine a light on a longstanding illegal practice and bring about overdue changes that will allow Mainers with service animals to enjoy the same rights as everyone else without fear of being detained, harassed and discriminated against.”

Plaintiffs’ lawsuit is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and changes to the Maine Mall’s policies.

Mission Working Dogs (MWD) is a Maine nonprofit run by disabled female veteran, Christina Gardner. MWD’s mission is to aid disabled individuals by training and providing service dogs that can assist individuals with living a full and independent life. In the years since its formation, the organization’s dogs have been placed primarily with disabled veterans like Ms. Gardner. MWD’s employees, trainers and volunteers are passionate about training service dogs and helping those with disabilities.

Since 1853, Skelton Taintor &Abbott has provided a full range of high-quality legal services to the individuals, companies, and municipalities of Maine. The firm is located in Lewiston, Maine, and its attorneys are deeply committed to the community where they live and work.