BANGOR, Maine — A former employee at Family Dollar in Ellsworth claims she suffered such traumatic verbal abuse from her boss that it induced a panic attack at work and she had to be brought to a hospital by ambulance.
Evette Forrest, 39, of Trenton filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bangor on April 19, alleging among other things that her superiors had repeatedly called her a racial slur. Forrest is seeking more than $75,000 in compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
Named as defendants in the suit are the North Carolina-based Family Dollar Inc., as well as Lisa Lowell and David Chapa, who were Forrest’s store manager and assistant store manager, respectively. None of the defendants have submitted a response to the court as of April 22.
Efforts to contact Family Dollar officials on Monday were unsuccessful.
In the complaint, Forrest claims she began working at the Ellsworth store in June 2011, at which point she told her employer that she suffered from leukopenia, which inhibits her ability to lift much weight.
She alleges that she “was subjected to negative treatment by defendant Lowell in part because of her hampered ability to unload trucks.” Forrest, who is black and Native American, also claims that Chapa routinely called her teenage daughter racial slurs.
She also claims that Lowell regularly used her access code at the store’s cash registers and blamed her when cash discrepancies arose, and that she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a less-senior co-worker.
Forrest allegedly complained about her superiors to a district manager in September 2011, but that neither Lowell nor Chapa were disciplined. Instead, she claims, they were notified about her complaint and retaliated.
On Sept. 10, 2011, she claims, “Defendant Lowell yelled and cursed at Ms. Forrest for reporting the defendants’ abuse of her to the district manager … treatment of the plaintiff that day was so harsh that the plaintiff suffered a panic attack and was transported by ambulance to a hospital as a result.”
Later that day, Forrest quit her job. In the complaint, she alleges that she felt forced to do so because of the treatment she had endured.
The defendants are charged with employment discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act; unlawful discrimination under the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act; unlawful employment practices under the federal Civil Rights Act; discrimination, retaliation and/or coercion unlawful under the Americans With Disabilities Act; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
According to Forrest’s attorneys, Hunter Umphrey and Christopher Largay of Largay Law Offices in Bangor, Forrest took her case last year to the Maine Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Neither assigned an investigator or took action within 180 days, so both provided Forrest with a “right to sue” letter, which allowed her case to go forward in federal court.
Forrest is requesting a jury trial, Largay said, because the abuse was so severe.
“It’s an important case for jurors to hear,” he said Monday. “I think it will be quite stark that this actually occurred in this day and age. The facts are pretty outrageous.”
Largay said his firm hired a private investigator to conduct interviews with former co-workers, customers and others who will corroborate Forrest’s claims in court.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.