Rights panel investigator finds fired bartender has cause to fight termination

Posted Nov. 01, 2012, at 7:29 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bartender promoted to bar manager at Portland’s AMVETS Charles J. Loring Post No. 25 who was fired shortly after the promotion has reasonable grounds to argue his termination came in retaliation for pointing out an apparent theft at the post, a Maine Human Rights Commission investigator has concluded.

The rights panel meets Monday, Nov. 5, to rule on that case, as well as on a complaint about a “racially hostile housing environment” at a housing complex in Gardiner, which an investigator also concluded merited a reasonable grounds ruling.

According to investigator Robert Beauchesne’s report, Larry Nortridge of Portland had worked as a bartender and assistant bar manager at the AMVETS post since 1989. At the end of the night on Aug. 4, 2010, Nortridge gathered up cash receipts to prepare a bank deposit. In doing so, he said he noticed a paper record from the previous night that showed game of chance ticket receipts were $100 more than the deposit made by the bar manager.

“I reasonably concluded that [the bar manager] had taken the missing $100,” Nortridge told the investigator. He then informed the chairman of the post’s board of trustees of his discovery, and the board questioned the bar manager and decided to fire him.

Nortridge was offered the job of bar manager. He told the board he would accept the job as long as he could return to being assistant bar manager “if things did not work out as bar manager.”

A little over a month later, the board rehired the fired bar manager, who demanded that Nortridge be fired before he returned. The board then terminated Nortridge.

The AmVets post listed several reasons for firing Nortridge, including an altercation with tenants of the post property; giving out drink comp chips for services rendered at the post, a practice that had been banned; losing the keys to the building; and failing to balance the cash register.

But the investigator concluded that while “It is not uncommon for either party in a … case to de-emphasize or recharacterize certain events,” the AmVets post’s assertion that it terminated Nortridge solely for his on-the-job failings “is simply not found to be credible given the amount of objective evidence that suggests otherwise.”

Beauchesne concluded that Nortridge should be protected under the “whistleblower” portion of the human rights law.

In the other case recommended for a reasonable grounds finding, investigator Barbara Lelli concluded that Christopher Menard, address unknown, created a racially hostile housing environment for complainant Margaret Visconti at an apartment complex in Gardiner.

Visconti is a white woman, but her ex-husband, the investigator’s report noted, is part African-American, Hispanic and white, as is the couple’s 4-year-old son, who lived with his mother.

Menard, a white man, moved into an apartment on the first floor below Visconti’s second-floor apartment in August 2011. Visconti’s ex-husband hired Menard as a laborer for his roofing contractor business, but in November 2011, Menard was fired.

“After that, Menard and his wife harassed [Visconti] with complaints about noise and disturbances,” Visconti claimed, and he called her son by an offensive racial epithet. Menard continued using the racial slurs when she and her son walked by his apartment, she said.

Menard denied making racial slurs.

Visconti’s lease was not renewed, she believed, because of the conflict with Menard.

The investigator concluded it was at least as likely as not that the racial slurs were made, which is the standard for reasonable grounds.

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