AUGUSTA, Maine — The former human resources director at Sunbury Medical Associates of Bangor claimed the organization’s CEO told her to hire only “young women with big boobs,” according to a complaint filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
Barbara Mann was fired by Sunbury Medical Associates, she claimed, for complaining about age and sex discrimination in the organization. A Maine Human Rights Commission investigator recommends commissioners find her claim has reasonable grounds when the panel meets Dec. 17.
Sunbury denies the claim, reporting that Mann was fired because of “lack of fit” and “negative interactions with employees.”
According to investigator Barbara Lelli’s report, Mann was hired as director of human resources in June 2003 and fired in September 2011.
Shortly after starting the job, the CEO, who is not named in the report, “told her that Sunbury had a ‘warm and fuzzy’ HR department and that [he] wanted to change that approach,” the report states, so the department was no longer a place for employees to “vent.”
Around June 2010, the CEO told Mann that “from now on, she should just hire ‘young women with big boobs,’” the report states. Before that, the CEO had made other comments about “big boobs” and “commended her on past female hires because he thought they were ‘cute and had big boobs.’”
The CEO, according to Mann, made other comments and engaged in behavior related to women that Mann found offensive, such as betting with his personal assistant how big her breasts would get when she was pregnant.
The CEO told the investigator he never used any term like “big boobs.”
In May 2011, the CEO told Mann he was hiring a woman who was a waitress to be assistant HR director. She was not the first waitress he hired, Mann reported.
When the new assistant was introduced to staff, she was “wearing a low-cut sweater which exposed her cleavage,” the report states. The CEO later called Mann into his office and told her he didn’t like the look on her face during the introductions. Mann replied that the assistant should “be required to wear appropriate business attire.”
She also told the CEO, according to the report, that two other women employees wore more revealing clothes when they felt they were out of favor with him, and that Mann had observed the CEO looking at their breasts “and that this situation made her uncomfortable.”
A few days later, Sunbury hired an attorney to investigate Mann’s comments. She refused to answer the attorney’s questions, believing the attorney could not be impartial. Mann also told the investigator she did not request an investigation, but rather only told the CEO about her concerns “because she wanted him to stop his behavior.”
Sunbury’s president threatened Mann with discipline if she did not cooperate with the attorney’s inquiry. The attorney issued a report on his investigation on June 13, 2011, concluding there was no basis to Mann’s claims. Mann was terminated by the CEO three months later.
The rights panel investigator’s report included statements from current and former Sunbury employees who made harsh statements about Mann, including that she was “mean” and “sarcastic.”
Lelli concluded that there was “at least an even chance” that Mann was fired for complaining about the CEO’s behavior, which is the standard the rights commission uses for finding reasonable grounds.