AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Human Rights Commission has ruled there are reasonable grounds to believe a longtime employee of Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro was discriminated against by her boss for religious reasons, which resulted in a hostile work environment.
The commission also said there are reasonable grounds to believe that Moody’s Diner retaliated against the employee, Allina Diaz, for asserting her rights under the Maine Human Rights Act, and that the company altered the terms and conditions of her employment because of its discrimination.
The ruling came after a lengthy hearing, attended by more than two dozen Moody’s Diner employees and managers, several of whom wore Moody’s Diner apparel in an apparent show of solidarity with the company and Dan Beck, a co-owner named in the complaint as the source of discrimination against Diaz.
At one point, Diaz’s attorney, Rebecca Webber, pointed to the crowd as she addressed the commission. Their presence alone was evidence of the hostile work environment created at Moody’s Diner, she said.
“Here are her managers,” Webber said. “She has to face them letting her know: ‘This is how we feel about about you challenging the owners, challenging this business on the grounds of religious discrimination.’ These people won’t even talk to her.”
Diaz has worked at Moody’s Diner since 2002, and she continues to work there as a server. A report by Human Rights Commission investigator Michele Dion states that Beck began discriminating against Diaz in November 2012 as a result of her relationship with his son, Nathan Beck.
Moody’s Diner, represented by attorney Robert Brooks, told commissioners that Dan Beck’s actions were the result of Diaz’s personal relationship with his son, not because of differences in or discrimination based on religion.
Diaz and Beck’s son are no longer in a relationship.
Beck is a devout Presbyterian, and in the report, Dion described several instances of Beck or his wife — who does not work at the restaurant — making disparaging comments to Diaz, including that she and Nathan Beck were “not following Jesus” by continuing their relationship, and that the elder Becks did not support the relationship.
At a January 2013 dinner, Dan Beck and his wife “stated that [Nathan Beck] would leave [Diaz] when he returned to God, and that she needed Jesus in her life,” Dion said in the report. “Their opinion was that [Beck] had to choose between [Diaz] and God, because if he believed in God, he would not be dating her.”
The conflict escalated in August 2013, when Dan Beck asked both his son and Diaz to find employment elsewhere because he could not condone their lifestyle by continuing to employ them.
Dion cited a recording of a conversation made by Nathan Beck, in which Dan Beck states that “Allina has never made a profession of faith,” and “by her lifestyle — and your lifestyle — you both display you don’t believe in Christ.”
Diaz refused to quit, and Beck never fired her. However, Dion’s investigation found that after the August meeting, Diaz was subject to frivolous disciplinary action for incidents such as tardiness and wearing the wrong footwear, which did not spur such action for other employees. The investigator also stated that Beck began asking Diaz’s co-workers to report any misbehavior.
Brooks said that Beck’s concern about his son’s relationship came in the context of Nathan Beck’s troubled mental state in 2012, which Dan Beck’s son confirmed on Monday.
“The issue is the concern the Becks had about their son getting into an intimate relationship with a woman as he’s dealing with depression and other issues,” Brooks said.
Brooks argued that employers’ actions triggered by concerns over personal relationships are not cases of discrimination.
“At the time, Mr. Beck, the father, was simply trying to preserve the relationship [with his son] as best he could,” Brooks said. “You don’t have to agree with the choice.”
Arnold Clark, the commission’s chairman, challenged Brooks’ assertion that the commission should differentiate between the personal relationship between the Becks and Diaz and their employment relationship. He referred to one incident, in which Diaz was summoned to the Becks’ home to discuss comments she made on Facebook.
“When she was called to the house because of the Facebook post, she was told that if she didn’t come to the house, she wouldn’t be allowed to work again. Is that a work issue or a personal issue?” Clark said. “If it’s just a personal issue, why did they bring up work at all?”
As a result of the commission’s findings, Diaz and Moody’s Diner will enter into conciliation hearings conducted by commission staff, where an attempt to reach a mutually agreeable settlement will be made. If no settlement is reached, Diaz will be given the green light to file a lawsuit against Moody’s Diner.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.