PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A former art professor at the University of Maine at Presque Isle is suing the University of Maine System, alleging that she was discriminated against based on her gender and later denied a teaching slot there in retaliation for complaints she made about the treatment.
The UMaine System denies any wrongdoing.
Renee Terese Felini, a Caribou resident who was hired to teach art in the spring of 2008, also alleges in her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor that the denial of her tenure track teaching position in May 2011 was in retaliation for her complaining about behavior by male professors in the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s art department that she believed constituted gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment.
Felini alleges violation of her rights under the Maine Human Rights Act and the federal Civil Rights Act. She is seeking compensatory damages, back pay, reinstatement and/or front pay and reasonable attorneys fees.
A jury trial is set for March 4, 2014, according to Felini’s attorney, A.J. Greif of Bangor.
The University of Maine System is being represented by Paul Chaiken of Bangor.
According to court documents, Felini was hired in the spring of 2008 and was treated differently than the male professors.
She started complaining about the behavior of male art department professors in November 2009 that she felt constituted gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment. In the lawsuit, Felini said she went to Raymond Rice, a University of Maine at Presque Isle professor and chairman of the college of arts and sciences, with her concerns. Felini alleges that Rice repeatedly told her that she would endanger her employment if she complained too much.
She was denied a tenure track position on March 28, 2011. In the suit, Felini said that Rice told her she would be offered an adjunct professor position in the fall of 2011 and would be teaching two or more online classes.
She then filed an internal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office on April 25, 2011, challenging the denial of her tenure application. She alleges that because of this, she did not receive any teaching positions as an adjunct professor, which she cited as intentional employment discrimination in retaliation for her internal complaint.
Greif said on Thursday that Felini did not fit in with the “good old boy” network that had been established within the department. He said that she deserved her tenure track position, had gone through the proper channels to report her concerns and really was not interested in money.
“She really wants her job back,” he said.
Chaiken said that the UMaine system denies the allegations in the lawsuit, and he said he intended to “vigorously defend” the system when the case goes to trial.
He also pointed out that Felini had taken her case to the Maine Human Rights Commission and requested a right to sue letter. Her request was denied.
According to minutes from the Maine Human Rights Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously on April 8 that there was no reasonable grounds to believe that the UMaine system discriminated against Felini on the basis of sex and no reasonable grounds to believe that the system retaliated against her in violation of the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act by denying her a promotion to the tenure track position.