Investigator: Company retaliated against social worker who reported sexual harassment

Posted Oct. 14, 2011, at 11:16 a.m.
Last modified Oct. 14, 2011, at 11:40 a.m.

An investigator for a state agency said a social worker who claimed she was fired for reporting sexual harassment has reasonable grounds for her complaint.

Colleen Taylor of New Gloucester lodged her complaint in 2009 against the Center for Behavioral Health ME Inc., doing business as Discovery House in South Portland, where she had worked as a substance abuse counselor since 2007.

Her employer operates treatment centers in Maine and other states that offer clinical services and outpatient care for people affected by addiction. The agency is subject to the Maine Human Rights Act and the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.

The employer denied retaliating against Taylor, saying she was fired for not being a good fit, exhibiting “constant negativity” and disrupting its business operations.

Domini Pham, an investigator for the Maine Human Rights Commission, reviewed submissions and responses to the agency’s requests for information and attended an issues and resolution conference before recommending that the Board of Commissioners could find reasonable grounds for Taylor’s complaint.

Two of Taylor’s co-workers had complained of inappropriate behavior by a supervisor, Pham wrote. In January 2009, Taylor filed a written complaint saying the supervisor was inappropriate and sexually harassed her co-workers. The company investigated and warned the supervisor. Eventually, the supervisor was fired, along with the clinical director.

Taylor met with the medical director and, in July 2009, she met with the chief operating officer to discuss past and ongoing harassment and a hostile environment in the workplace. A day later, she was fired.

Taylor hadn’t been reprimanded verbally or in writing during her two years at the company.

During the summer of 2008, Taylor had gone to the supervisor with concerns about inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment, as well as personalized comments directed at patients by guards. She also brought her concerns to the clinical director, who said that nothing could be done about it, she told the investigator.

At the end of 2008, Taylor read a letter at a staff meeting putting the company on notice that she was dissatisfied with its handling of sexual harassment complaints.

After complaining to her company’s human resources department about the hostile work environment, she was criticized during her annual evaluation for having been a “spokesperson” for co-workers who had raised sexual harassment claims.

At a June 2009 meeting, the clinical director was angry and hostile toward Taylor, she said. The medical director advised her to talk to the operating officer, assuring her she wouldn’t be penalized for it, she said. On July 15, she shared her concerns with the operating officer, telling him that she had taken her concerns to the Maine Human Rights Commission. He told her it was time “to move on and if she disagreed, it was probably time for her to leave,” according to the investigator’s report. The next day, she was fired.

At first, the company said Taylor hadn’t been a good fit. Later, the company said she was “disruptive” and “negatively impacted the environment at the clinic.”

The company said Taylor hadn’t stopped complaining about the harassment after her co-workers had been satisfied with the company’s corrective actions. Other employees complained that Taylor was pressuring them to file new complaints about past events, the company said.

The company also said Taylor had problems with her work attendance.

Taylor had also complained that the company continued to unlawfully retaliate against her by refusing her request for certification paperwork after she was fired. But Pham found no reasonable grounds for that claim and recommended that that part of her claim be dismissed by the board.

The board is expected to vote on Taylor’s complaint at its Oct. 31 meeting.

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