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Couple sues townhome owners for alleged discrimination

By Janice Gregorson

gregor@postbulletin.com

A longtime Rochester developer faces a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination for refusing to rent a townhome to a woman in need of an assistance dog for a disability.

The lawsuit against Bouquet Builders Inc. and its owners, Marcia and John Bouquet, was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis by the U.S. attorney’s office, on behalf of Sarah and Jesse Wilder of Rochester and their minor daughter.

Bouquet Builders declined comment this morning.

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The complaint alleges that the Bouquets refused to rent the Wilders a townhome at Avalon Cove, a complex they own located at 3202 Avalon Cove Lane N.W., citing a no-pet policy.

Sarah Wilder has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other medical conditions and is described as a person with a disability as defined in the U.S. Fair Housing Act.

In July 2004, her treating psychologist prescribed the use of an assistance animal (a beagle) as additional therapy.

On May 13, 2005, the family came to Rochester to obtain housing near her new job as a nurse at Saint Marys Hospital. The complaint said they contacted Avalon Cove Townhomes to rent a unit and met with Marcia Bouquet on May 14, 2005. During the interview, they were told about the no-pet policy. The couple said an assistance animal had been prescribed for Sarah Wilder’s medical conditions. The complaint said Marcia Bouquet said no animals are allowed and maintained that position even after the Wilders explained that that is in violation of the law in these circumstances.

On Dec. 13, 2005, Sarah Wilder filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging violation of the Fair Housing Act. HUD conducted an investigation and found that "reasonable cause existed to believe the defendants discriminated against the Wilders." On July 18, HUD issued a charge of discrimination against the Bouquets. On Aug. 9, the Bouquets elected to have the charge resolved in a federal civil action, and the government filed the lawsuit Monday. The suit asks the federal court to declare that the Bouquet policy violates the Fair Housing Act, and seeks a monetary award for damages against the Wilders.

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