Woman driven out of job by inappropriate, sexual comments, rights panel says

Posted Dec. 12, 2011, at 6:46 p.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — A man who owns a carpet store illegally forced a woman to quit by repeatedly making sexual remarks that made her feel uncomfortable, the Maine Human Rights Commission found Monday.

Angel Soucie of Woodland accused Fred Lozoway, the owner of Fred’s Carpet Barn in Caribou, of creating a hostile workplace by making comments about her breasts and pedophilia, among other things.

Soucie worked at the carpet store for a year before she quit in September of 2010. Human Rights Commission Investigator Angela Tizon argued that Lozoway indirectly forced Soucie to quit by repeatedly making remarks that made her uncomfortable.

“Given that no corrective action was taken to eliminate the sexual harassment that [Soucie] was subjected to, she would have no reason to believe that conditions would change and that the harassment by respondent would stop. A reasonable person would feel compelled to resign in her situation.”

Lozoway told the commission Monday that the real reason Soucie quit was because he hired her ex-husband to also work in the store and she couldn’t stand it.

Soucie said in the year she worked for Lozoway, the store owner told her not to lift heavy objects because, “I don’t want you to strain your milk jugs” and made other such comments in front of customers. The investigator’s report also details incidents when Lozoway supposedly told Soucie, “that he did not understand why touching little girls was such a serious offense.”

He also “dropped something on the floor and then asked her to pick it up so that she could tell his ex-wife that his new employee was under his desk [performing a sex act],” according to the report. There were several other allegations by Soucie.

Lozoway denied that he dropped an object and made jokes about oral sex.

Aside from that, he “only flatly denied two of the allegations. His response to the other allegations was that he didn’t recall making those statements,” Tizon said to the commission Monday. “I could go through some of the statements, but to say you don’t recall to some of these very explicit things makes it seem plausible that they were said.”

The commission voted 4-0 that Lozoway discriminated against Soucie by subjecting her to a hostile work environment based on sex, and by constructively discharging her.

In cases where grounds for discrimination are found, both parties are encouraged to reconcile and reach a settlement. If conciliation fails, the complainant may file a civil lawsuit in Maine Superior Court, where a binding settlement can include monetary damages.

Soucie also accused Lozoway of discriminating against her because of her French heritage, but the Human Rights Commission did not agree with that allegation. It voted 4-0 that there was no reason to believe that type of discrimination happened.

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