Former employees accuse Village Candle founder of sexual harassment

Posted June 10, 2014, at 10:59 a.m.
Last modified June 10, 2014, at 7:54 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Three former employees of Village Candle in Wells have filed wrongful termination lawsuits that accuse Paul Aldrich, the company’s founder and president, of sexual harassment, discrimination and wage and hour violations.

The lawsuits, filed separately in U.S. District Court last week, each allege eight counts of state and federal work-related violations and one count of assault and battery connected to a Halloween party where, according to court documents, Aldrich had dressed as a gorilla and picked up over his shoulder employee Cassie Laughlin.

Laughlin, her mother Cynthia Rowe and former employee Heidi MacDonald filed the lawsuits that seek a jury trial and damages related to the charges. All allege they were fired illegally from the 50-employee firm and that Aldrich created a hostile work environment. In March, they received “right to sue” letters from the Maine Human Rights Commission, according to the complaints.

Paul Aldrich said the allegations “are completely false and without merit” in a written statement sent to the Bangor Daily News through public affairs firm The Bernstein Shur Group.

“There is another side to the story yet to be told,” Aldrich said. “I am determined to defend myself and my company vigorously, and work to set the record straight and see the truth be told about these fraudulent claims.”

Stephen Langsdorf, Aldrich’s attorney, issued a statement to the BDN alleging that the lawsuits “are the result of collusion between disgruntled former employees.”

At the time of their firing in 2012, Laughlin was an inside sales representative, and her mother, Rowe, was vice president of sales and marketing. MacDonald’s official title was “manager of collections,” according to court documents, but the complaint alleges her job was not actually in management and by law she should have received overtime pay for all hours in weeks she worked more than 40 hours. She worked at the company through July 2013.

Each complaint alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including creating a hostile work environment, quid pro quo sexual harassment and improper retaliation, as well as the assault and battery charge and disability discrimination. MacDonald and Rowe further allege violations of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

The allegations of sexual harassment in the complaints begin with claims that Aldrich had in 2001 coerced a female employee not connected with the lawsuits to join him for dinners after work, implying she would be fired if she declined the invitation. The complaint, written by attorneys Laura White and William Gallitto, states Aldrich around that time asked the former employee, identified as “MP,” to masturbate in front of him and at other times asked female employees whether they shave their pubic hair.

All of the plaintiffs said they personally experienced sexual harassment and advances from Aldrich, including one instance where Rowe alleges her boss “embarked on an inappropriate discussion of candle lids in a manner that obviously was in reference to a penis.”

Aldrich has 21 days from Friday to respond to the complaint.

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