Maine state discrimination charges: a bad back, sex wagers, kisses and payback

29 December 2012

MAINE - The following examples of discrimination charges were taken from complaints filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission and court documents.

$9,000 to settle case of an alleged bad back

Charles Graten was a customer service representative in the Secretary of State’s division of motor vehicles who said the office was not making accommodations for his disability. He cited neck, back and leg pain due to his work station.

Records show the state made numerous attempts to modify the work station for Graten, who they noted weighed 320 pounds. He took a leave of absence; when it was over, the department told him to return to work or provide a doctor’s note. When that was not provided, he was dismissed.

A commission investigator concluded that Graten’s physical problems did not constitute a legal disability. His supervisors, according to the report, responded promptly at times, other times were “genuinely confused” by the situation and the doctors involved “presented starkly contrasting opinions.”

In the end, the Commission found no basis that Graten was illegally discriminated against.

Nevertheless, the state settled the case for $9,000.

Toxic demotion costs state $65,000

Andrea Lani worked in the state Department of Environmental Regulation, running the program that educates the public about toxic chemicals.

According to her retaliation lawsuit against the state, top appointees of Gov. Paul LePage demoted her in 2011 because she testified against a bill supported by the administration.  Lani believed the bill would weaken the Kid-Safe Product Act.

Lani, who said she took a vacation day to testify, said state law prohibits taking action against an employee based on testifying before a legislative committee.

EPA Commissioner Patrica Aho ordered an investigation into whether Lani used department resources to develop her testimony, according to a story by the Bangor Daily News.

The lawsuit states the court cleared Lani of that allegation, but the department later reassigned her to a clerical job and filled her old job with a less qualified person.

The settlement not only paid Lani $65,000, but also required the state to provide training to supervisors about the state law barring retaliation for giving testimony.

Bets on her sex life

The corrections officer was hired in 2001, one of the few females in that job. (The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is withholding the employee’s name from this portion of the coverage to protect her privacy due to the salacious allegations.) Among the claims in her sexual harassment lawsuit:

* Some fellow officers “had a betting pool about whom and when (she) would sleep with first,” including inmates.

* Rumors circulated that she “was willing to perform fellatio for $20.”

* She claimed her supervisor was trying to force her out because she had complained about the sexual harassment. One example she cited involved a report she said was designed to undermine her: that she witnessed a male officer demonstrate how he could touch his nose with his tongue.

According to the report, she commented:  “I can’t believe he can do that. I think I’m in love.”

In her court filing, she claimed she never made that remark. Instead, she said the officer’s supervisor ordered him to fabricate the comment. In the state’s response to that charge, it agreed that the officer admitted he did not hear the offensive comment, but denied that the supervisor ordered him to make up the claim.

The female officer eventually quit the department when she said behavior and comments by officers and a supervisor created “a hostile work environment.”

While the state contested some of her allegations, it eventually paid a lump sum cash settlement to her for $65,000.

The kissing supervisor

From 2007 to 2008, Trish Smith was a juvenile program worker at the Department of Corrections Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston. Her lawsuit against the department for creating a hostile work environment and retaliation details the case of a supervisor known for his advances towards female employees.

The suit, citing Smith’s allegations and also affidavits from other employees, is unusual in that the state admits some of the behavior.

Some examples of what the state admitted:

* The supervisor “made inappropriate comments and jokes of a sexual nature, inappropriately touched and hugged and attempted to kiss” Smith and demonstrated similar behavior with other employees.

* In March 2004, the supervisor “intentionally snapped” the bra of an employee.

The state denied some of the other claims by Smith, including that management failed to keep her supervisor away from her, as they had promised to do after she complained. 

Smith’s suit said she felt forced to resign because of the unwanted contact with the supervisor.

The state settled for $69,500.

There is no public record of what happed to her supervisor.