April 26, 2018
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Maine human rights panel upholds Portland bartender’s complaint

By Tom Groening, BDN Staff

Board also turns down Iraq vet’s claim against Calais school

AUGUSTA, Maine — A man who claimed he was fired from his job as a bartender at a Portland AmVets post likely was terminated in retaliation, the Maine Human Rights Commission ruled Monday.

In a separate case, an educational technician in the Calais school system did not win commission support for his claim that the district failed to provide an appropriate accommodation to him because of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the first case, documents filed with the commission indicated that Larry Nortridge of Portland had worked at Charles J. Loring Post since 1989, most recently as assistant bar manager. More than two years ago, he observed what he thought was evidence that the bar manager had taken $100 from the sale of chance tickets sold at the club. He presented the information to the post’s board of directors and the bar manager was fired.

Nortridge then was offered the bar manager job, which he took on two conditions: that he be given a written job description and that he be able to return to his assistant manager job if the manager position did not work out. Nortridge was fired a few weeks later.

Investigator Robert Beauchesne told the panel that in reviewing minutes from the AmVets board meetings, it was clear the former bar manager had support from some board members and that they believed he had been falsely accused of stealing. The former manager was rehired, and that man — unnamed in the documents — wanted Nortridge fired.

Attorney James Hamilton, representing the AmVets post, told commissioners the post had wanted a continuance to better prepare its response, in part because a mailed notice went to a man who had died, delaying its review. That request was denied by the rights commission.

“The AmVets did the best they could,” Hamilton said, but maintained that there was more to the story than the investigator found. “It’s obvious that there is additional information,” he said.

Nortridge’s attorney, Roberta de Araujo, countered that the AmVets “had ample opportunity to include any information.”

Beauchesne told commissioners that the AmVets listed several reasons why they fired Nortridge, but never mentioned the so-called whistle-blower event in which the apparent theft was reported.

“I found it notable that the [AmVets] made no mention of the elephant in the room,” he said.

The commission voted 4-0 that Nortridge’s claim had reasonable grounds. In cases in which the commission finds reasonable grounds, 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.

In the other case, attorney Eric Black said that his client, Leonard Hanson of Crawford, had served in Iraq and since been diagnosed with PTSD. Hanson had been working one-on-one with a high school student, but the district transferred him to an elementary school at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, Black said.

Hanson found the setting stressful. Black quoted a letter from Hanson’s doctor to the district indicating that “noises and crowded social settings, especially unfamiliar places,” would upset him.

Tom Trenholm, the school district’s attorney, countered that Hanson was transferred after the student with whom he was working graduated. The plan was to have him work one-on-one with a sixth grader in a classroom of about 12 children.

“Mr. Hanson was a terrific ed tech,” Trenholm said, with students responding well to his military background.

Trenholm also noted that Hanson’s doctor knew he was being transferred to the elementary school yet didn’t specifically recommend against it.

Investigator Beauchesne said the doctor didn’t think Hanson should be working at any school. He also disputed Hanson’s claim that he should have been able to “bump” a less senior ed tech, saying that was not allowed in the collective bargaining agreement.

Commission member Mavourneen Thompson told Trenholm that providing for children’s needs is paramount. She made the motion to find no reasonable grounds for Hanson’s claim.

“I will be voting against someone who most likely experienced unspeakable terror while serving our country in Iraq,” she said, but concluded the school district had done all it could to accommodate Hanson.

In one other case, the commission found reasonable grounds that Christopher Menard, address unknown, created a racially hostile housing environment for Margaret Visconti of Gardiner. Neither party appeared before the commission.

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