BANGOR, Maine — A fired U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer has settled a federal lawsuit that claimed her former male supervisor at the Coburn Gore border port of entry created a hostile work environment by pushing his religious beliefs on her and speaking in a demeaning manner about women who work in law enforcement.
“I’m happy. It cleared my name, my record,” Rebecca Albert Carnot, 34, of Rangeley said Tuesday about the $285,000 settlement agreement with the federal agency. Carnot’s attorney, Jeffrey Neil Young of Topsham, confirmed the settlement.
“The lesson I think needs to be learned from this settlement is you need to check your religious and personal beliefs at the door,” Young said Tuesday. “You do not have the right to impose those beliefs on your colleagues and co-workers.”
He added, “It’s a very substantial settlement.”
The harassment started in January 2009 during the first week of Carnot’s employment at the border crossing port in western Maine when her supervisor, Officer Gregory Pease, lectured her about dating and premarital sex, she said and court documents state.
“[Pease] told Plaintiff Carnot that he believed that single women should not date, but should court” because “dating involved ‘sexual intercourse,’” states the U.S. District Court complaint filed by Carnot in Bangor after she was fired in January 2011.
The Maine native also claimed in the lawsuit that Pease said that a woman should not be involved in any capacity in law enforcement and had a duty to obey her husband in accordance with the Bible. He also repeatedly invited Carnot to attend his Protestant church, even though he knew she was a Catholic, and said “she was not going to go to heaven because she had been divorced,” the complaint states.
Pease was not at work at Coburn Gore on Tuesday, an officer who answered the phone said. Pease did not immediately respond to a message left at his home in Stratton seeking comment.
Asked if the investigation led to any disciplinary action against Pease or others, or if there have been administrative changes at the Coburn Gore station, Sean Smith, spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Boston field office, said he could not answer.
“I am not at liberty to discuss the case or any of the particulars surrounding it,” he said Tuesday.
Alan Mulherin, president of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 141, said he does not believe any changes have been made.
Messages left for Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan Roth, civil chief for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland, were not immediately returned Tuesday.
In addition to compensation for damages, lost wages and legal expenses, Carnot also wanted her job back, but didn’t get it.
“That was a bummer,” she said Tuesday by phone from her home. “That was my dream job.”
Carnot said more problems started when she filed a discrimination complaint against Pease with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September 2010. The day he found out about the complaint, Pease accused her of lying about an unrelated incident, and the “retaliation” began and continued until she was fired three months later, Carnot said.
Her Jan. 3, 2011, termination letter, written by Kevin Weeks, field operations director for the Boston field office, gives five reasons for Carnot’s firing — she told Pease she changed the Port of Entry safe combination in March 2010, but didn’t; she experience back pain in June 2010 from lifting a bed, but later was diagnosed with a kidney stone, however, still listed lifting the bed as the cause of her injury on her medical form; she filed inaccurate overtime indicating she worked 1.5 hours, when she only worked 0.5 hours; and she claimed 15 minutes of overtime in October 2010, when she left work two minutes past the hour, according to security tapes.
“Your conduct in these incidents, causes me concern, particularly because you are an employee of a law enforcement agency,” Weeks wrote. “As law enforcement officers, CBP Officers are held to a higher standard, which you have shown yourself to be unable to meet.”
“Everything they supposedly terminated me for happened up to six months prior to being terminated and I had a [positive] evaluation” after they occurred, Carnot said. “My termination was in direct retaliation for filing the EEO complaint. I was fine until I filed that, and then it went downhill.”
“It’s my personal belief that, yes, it was most assuredly retaliation,” Mulherin, her union representative, said.
Carnot was fired while on a pre-approved medical leave and Port Director Timothy Lacasse informed her that “a package containing her termination paperwork had been left at the doorstep of her Maine residence” while she was out of state, a violation of her privacy, the complaint states.
Lacasse was at work on Tuesday at Coburn Gore, an officer who answered the phone said, but a message left for comment was not immediately returned.
Young filed the complaint last year in U.S. District Court in Bangor against Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which includes Customs and Border Protection.
The suit was filed after Carnot received a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Bullying doesn’t just happen in grade school and high school,” Carnot said. “I lost my job, but I never lost my integrity or my dignity.”
Carnot now manages a store near her home and volunteers with Special Olympics, teaching participants how to ride horses, she said.
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this story.