Woman: Wages lost over abuse

Posted May 27, 2009, at 9:56 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:07 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Hancock woman testified Wednesday in a civil trial that being sexually harassed at a Southwest Harbor boatyard has left her feeling terrible, humiliated and degraded.

Patty A. Smith filed a civil lawsuit against the boatyard, its owner and against Peter Mills, a convicted rapist who worked with her at Manset Yacht Service in 2004 and 2005.

Smith claims the harassment and a subsequent physical assault forced her to quit her boatyard job and is suing for $26,000 in lost wages.

Justice Kevin M. Cuddy is presiding over the non-jury civil trial, which began Wednesday in Hancock County Superior Court.

Robert Brown, owner of Manset Yacht Service, has filed a countersuit against Smith. He claims she is making false allegations that have hurt his business.

Smith testified Wednesday that Mills and Brown subjected her and other women to sexual harassment on nearly a daily basis. She said she was subjected to comments about her breasts and other parts of her anatomy and called vulgar, derogatory names. She also claims Mills touched her in passing on the job though it was unnecessary because they did not work together in tight quarters.

Smith said she was assaulted physically by Mills at the boatyard in mid-July 2005, about a month after he had been charged criminally with sexually assaulting three women who did not work at the boatyard. She said that on July 14 of that year, soon after Mills spoke on the phone to a woman who called from Florida, he grabbed Smith by the shoulders and shook her, saying, “It’s not what you think!”

Smith said she pushed Mills away and told him not to touch her again. She left and reported the incident to the Southwest Harbor Police Department.

Daniel Pileggi, who is representing Manset Yacht Service and Brown, questioned Smith about her work and medical histories and about how much of her medical history she has revealed to medical and mental health professionals. He suggested that, in telling people about her experiences, she has withheld information about how much money she has earned and about other traumatic experiences that could have contributed to her mental state.

Smith admitted to Pileggi that she had left a previous job involuntarily, but denied ever threatening to sue the previous employer. She said she could not remember ever telling medical professionals at a Bangor hospital, where she was treated for unrelated assaults, that she has experienced dissociative episodes in the past.

Michael J. DeMatteo, Smith’s therapist, also testified Wednesday. He said he diagnosed Smith as suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he did not seek independent corroboration of her claims of sexual harassment, and that Smith did not tell him about all of the traumatic experiences in her life, such as when she witnessed her boyfriend being beaten by a dozen people in 1998.

Mills, who was sentenced in 2007 to serve 10 years in prison for the criminal sexual assaults, is representing himself in the case. He recently was transferred from Maine State Prison in Warren to Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth so he could participate in the civil trial.

Mills briefly cross-examined Smith, then DeMatteo during Wednesday’s testimony. Smith denied to Mills that she ever thanked him for helping her find work after she left the boatyard. DeMatteo told Mills that trauma stress can result from many cumulative events, and that such stress can lie dormant for many years before manifesting itself.

Another woman who worked at the boatyard also testified Wednesday. Peggy Sue Smith, who is not related to Patty Smith, said she also witnessed and was subjected to sexual harassment by Mills and Brown.

Peggy Smith said that salty banter between workers is typical for most boatyards on Mount Desert Island, but said the spirit of the banter at Manset Yacht Service changed after Mills started working there in 2004. Peggy Smith worked at the boatyard from 1998 to 2006.

“It changed from jocularity to vulgar and distressing,” Peggy Smith said. “He was the instigator. He treated me like a dog, or worse.”

Under questioning by Pileggi, Peggy Smith denied she later began a campaign to discredit Mills in the community. She acknowledged sending letters to Brown’s wife and to local newspapers about Mills, but said her goals were to get a photo of her removed from the boatyard’s Web site and to educate women about date-rape drugs.

“Patty knew nothing of this,” Peggy Smith said of her efforts.

Patty Smith is being represented by Ellsworth attorneys Matthew Foster and Carol Coakley.

The case went into recess around 3 p.m. Wednesday, but it was not clear when testimony will resume. Pileggi said he plans to attend an unrelated court proceeding in Machias today, but declined to say whether that was the reason the civil trial in Ellsworth is not expected to continue today.

Patty Smith’s attorneys and court personnel also declined to indicate why the trial is not expected to resume today, saying only that when it will resume is up to the judge.

btrotter@bangordailynews.net

460-6318

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