Panel: Eastport woman fired illegally

Posted Jan. 24, 2011, at 9:25 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 24, 2011, at 10:43 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — An owner of a small business in Perry illegally fired a woman who he believed had a mental disability, the Maine Human Rights Commission decided on Monday.

The commission ruled against Invertercentral.com owner Paul Grimshaw after one of his employees was called a “retard” before he fired her and ran an ad in a local newspaper days later that specified under job requirements “no mental cases/no exceptions.”

Grimshaw said at the Monday meeting that aside from jokes, his former employee Tara Bowen of Eastport never notified him of any mental disability.

“If someone jokes about being checked into the loony bin for the weekend, I do not understand that to be a notification to the employer that she had a mental illness,” Grimshaw said.

The case’s investigator disagreed.

Grimshaw said a supervisor called Bowen retarded, but that kind of remark was typical in his office and she was not singled out. According to his statements in the investigator’s report, Bowen should have approached him at that time to notify him she was mentally disabled.

Bowen sent Grimshaw an e-mail notifying him she was offended by Grimshaw’s language. According to Bowen’s attorney, who presented evidence Monday, Grimshaw responded with an e-mail again calling her a retard.

In the investigator’s report, Grimshaw states that Bowen was fired in February 2009 because of her work performance and a lack of professionalism. He alleges in the public document that Bowen shared sexually explicit material with co-workers and made drug deals at work. Bowen denied these actions and cited an e-mail where her job performance was rated “A.”

The Human Rights Commission’s investigator on the case, Robert Beauchesne, said that although there may have been some job performance issues, “the timing of the job advertisement, and especially the language employed therein, (‘no mental cases’), makes it ‘at least as likely as not’ that her actual or perceived mental disability played at least some part in her termination.”

Beauchesne asked the commission to rule that Grimshaw’s actions were illegal. The commission agreed and voted 4-0 in favor of Bowen.

In an interview after the decision, Grimshaw called the decision devastating. He said he employs two people and he’s worried about the effects this will have on his small business.

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