Panel: Man wrongly fired over race

Posted Sept. 22, 2008, at 9:31 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Human Rights Commission on Monday morning found reasonable grounds to believe that a Vassalboro man had been harassed and discharged by his former employer, Hamilton’s Sandblasting of North Vassalboro, because of race, color and national origin.

In Ernest “Tony” Ortiz vs. Hamilton’s Sandblasting, Ortiz, represented by attorney Stephanie Jazlowski, charged that his employer, Randy Hamilton, represented by attorney Jim Mitchell, discriminated against him and terminated him from his job because Ortiz complained about racist statements Hamilton made.

Hamilton denied the charge of discrimination and said Ortiz was let go because he would not work and had a bad attitude.

Ortiz is Hispanic, is of Portuguese descent and has dark skin, according to the commission investigator’s report. Hamilton’s Sandblasting employed Ortiz as an assistant to the owner and operator for one month from September to October 2006.

Ortiz said Randy Hamilton paid him approximately $2,000 “under the table” for work he did at Hamilton’s home and other places.

Mitchell said there was some question concerning whether Ortiz was actually an employee and how much he had been paid.

Jazlowski said her client had been an employee and that he was terminated right after he complained about the abusive language used by his boss.

Hamilton, the sole proprietor, works on sandblasting projects usually with one other person.

A mutual friend of Hamilton and Ortiz, known in the report as RH, also provided information in the case.

Ortiz said Hamilton used a racial slur while working with him in Bangor in reference to a radio station and the music to which Ortiz had been listening. He also told Ortiz that black people are a waste of flesh and skin, according to the investigator’s report.

Hamilton further told RH on Oct. 20, 2006, that “Tony looks like a [N-word] and acts like a [N-word], so I guess he’s a [N-word],” the report stated.

When Ortiz complained to Hamilton about his use of the word, Hamilton fired Ortiz and ordered him off the job, using an obscenity and threatening “to kill him” if he didn’t leave, according to the report.

After being discharged, Ortiz walked the 15 miles to his home.

In a later conversation with RH, Hamilton said he meant to say that Ortiz “acts just like a [N-word] that doesn’t want to work,” according to the report. Hamilton said he told Ortiz the next day that what he had meant by the statement was that Ortiz had a bad attitude — that he would not work weekends, that he was not a good enough worker, and that he made Hamilton wait when he picked up Ortiz in the morning for work.

GT, a friend of Ortiz, told the Human Rights Commission investigator during fact-finding that Ortiz had been “hysterical” and “quite distraught” right after the confrontation with Hamilton. GT said that Ortiz was not very excitable as a rule and that after the interaction he was hurt by the statement.

GT said he had heard from others that Hamilton had made racist statements. GT did not say whether the statements were about Ortiz or about others in general.

The commission decided on the basis of the investigator’s analysis that Hamilton’s reason for firing Ortiz was untrue and that Ortiz was discharged after complaining about having been disparaged in clear violation of the Maine Human Rights Act.

The commission decided Hamilton’s comment about “[N-word]s coming to Maine to live off the state” supports his discriminator intent and underscores the fact that he treated Ortiz differently. The commission agreed that Ortiz would not have been terminated but for his race, color and national origin.

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