AUGUSTA, Maine — Human rights panel members struggled Monday with a “he said, she said” case that came through a complaint filed by a former employee of an Eddington convenience store.
The four members of the Maine Human Rights Commission — one member was absent — voted to not support Denise Scott’s claim that she faced retaliation from The Eddington Store LLC under the law’s “whistleblower” protection.
And they split on her claim that she faced unlawful sexual harassment which in turn led to her quitting her job at the convenience store and gas station located at 549 Main Road in Eddington. The 2-2 vote on a motion to find “reasonable grounds” for her claim meant that this part of the complaint also failed to get commission support.
After attorneys for Scott and the store’s owners, Gary and Michelle Pelletier, each made their cases, Commissioner Arnold Clark — in a question to the commission investigator who prepared the report on Scott’s claim — referred to the store’s “sexualized” environment.
The case, while containing sordid details, is not unusual for the commission, which often rules on similar complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.
According to the report, Scott said that on May 19, 2011, sometime during the lunch hours, she was making sandwiches for two customers. Both men, who were unnamed in the report, were in the kitchen area of the store.
“Customer 1 grabbed her hips and [began] rubbing his genital area against her buttocks and verbally abused her,” Scott reported. The second customer hung his hat over a security camera to block the view, she said.
Scott said she escaped from the man, but he again grabbed her and resumed the activity.
Scott said she called for Gary Pelletier, who was in another part of the store, to help her. He did not come to her aid, she said. Shortly after the assault, Scott said she told Pelletier about the incident, complaining that the customer had no right to touch her like that.
Pelletier’s only response, according to Scott, was “men are pigs.”
A week later, the customer came into the store and called Scott demeaning names, she said.
Scott said she also told Michelle Pelletier about the incident. Pelletier reportedly told Scott to tell her co-worker, who is married to Customer 1, about the assault.
In her comments to the investigator, Michelle Pelletier said she told Scott that the incident with the customer was a personal matter between Scott and the man, but that it was inappropriate and should not be repeated.
Scott left the job a couple of weeks after the incident, citing fear for her personal safety.
The store owners did not deny the assault took place. But the Pelletiers told the investigator another version of the incident.
Gary Pelletier said he witnessed the contact between the customer and Scott, but said it was consensual. She and the customers were laughing as he walked in to see the contact, he said the other customer said he put his hat over the camera as a joke. The other man also said Scott initiated the contact by grabbing the man’s crotch.
The day after the incident, according to Gary Pelletier, Scott made a sandwich for Customer 1 and, “as witnessed by several employees, proceeded to rub it on her crotch in front of [others],” while making a lewd comment.
The investigator, Mark Coursey, concluded there was at least an even chance that Scott’s version was accurate, which is the commission’s standard for finding reasonable grounds. But he concluded there were not reasonable grounds to conclude the store’s owners retaliated against Scott for her complaints.
Commissioner questions seemed to focus on the relative credibility of Scott and the Pelletiers, about which Coursey was unable to make a definitive statement. The lack of a finding of reasonable grounds dismisses Scott’s claims.