AUGUSTA, Maine — Sunbury Medical Associates of Bangor, whose CEO was accused of telling the human resources director to hire only “young women with big boobs,” did not challenge the woman’s discrimination claim before the Maine Human Rights Commission at its meeting Monday.
The claim, by former Sunbury HR Director Barbara Mann, was accepted by the commission as part of its consent agenda in which investigator recommendations are endorsed. The human rights commission investigator who looked into Mann’s claims, and the denials issued by the company, concluded there was at least an even chance of the complaint prevailing in court.
When a claim is found to have reasonable grounds, both parties are encouraged to reconcile and reach a settlement. If that process fails, the complainant may file a civil lawsuit in Maine Superior Court, where a binding settlement can include monetary damages.
Mann claimed she suffered sexual and age discrimination because of the CEO’s repeated comments about hiring young women with “big boobs.”
A phone call to Sunbury CEO David Savell was referred to the company’s attorney, who was unavailable to speak late Monday.
In three of four other cases in which an investigator recommended finding reasonable grounds, the commission on Monday rejected the complaints.
Agreeing with the investigator, commissioners, in a 3-2 decision, upheld the complaint from Neal Rasmussen of Old Orchard Beach that Don’s Sheet Metal Inc. of Biddeford discriminated against him for having a perceived disability.
Rasmussen told commissioners he had passed several kidney stones while at work but did not take sick leave. A physician also recommended that Rasmussen not be required to lift more than 40 pounds because of a back injury.
The company maintained that he was fired for poor job performance.
Commissioners overruled their investigator in a complaint filed by Joseph Chase of Rockland, a home-health care worker employed by Home Hope & Healing Inc. of Smithfield. Chase worked caring for a profoundly disabled child in the child’s home.
Chase complained that he was removed from that job after reporting that the child’s bedroom sometimes got as cold as 47 degrees in the early morning. Chase reported the conditions to Home Hope & Healing as a safety concern. The administrative staff at Home Hope & Healing then contacted the child’s mother about Chase’s concern.
A few days later, the mother told Home Hope & Healing she did not want Chase to return. The health care agency offered Chase other jobs, but he told investigator Angela Tizon that they were not as close to his home.
Commissioners and their attorney, John Gause, discussed at length whether Chase’s actions constituted protected “whistleblower” activity. The investigator concluded that Chase did not act in bad faith by noting the cold temperature. She also noted that the mother, after four years of having Chase care for her child, had not made any other complaints about his work.
But a majority of commissioners voted that Home Hope & Healing did not retaliate against Chase for his complaint about the cold temperature.
In another case, Angela Webber of Windham claimed her employer, Maine Business Center of Portland, discriminated against her because she was pregnant.
According to Webber’s claim, a supervisor told Webber he thought she looked “uncomfortable” and observed that she was “emotional,” and suggested she begin her maternity leave. Webber, according to Maine Business Center, had said she would work until her due date, but kept changing the date at which she planned to take the leave.
In a split decision, commissioners overruled their investigator and sided with the business, which asserted that it was not reasonable for Webber to plan to work right up until her due date.
In another split decision, commissioners overruled an investigator’s recommendation that Donna Millett of Portland had reasonable grounds to claim she was discriminated against by the City of Portland’s Barron Center which fired her for being physically unable to work as a cook.
Millett had carpal tunnel syndrome and fibromyalgia when she began the job, and supervisors were worried about her possibly dropping a pot full of hot food or water on a co-worker. Gause told commissioners the employer should have sought an independent analysis of Millett to see if she could do the job, even if it meant working through pain.
But commissioners voted 3-2 that her claim did not have reasonable grounds.
The commission next meets on Jan. 14.