AUGUSTA, Maine — A Hancock man who suffers from cerebral palsy was vindicated Monday when the Maine Human Rights Commission ruled that reasonable grounds exist to believe he had been discriminated against by a Bar Harbor shop that fired him after nine days on the job.
Geddy’s Pub, doing business as Geddy’s Down Under, contested that the man — a full-time college student named Adam Clark — was laid off in May 2013 because of a lull in work caused by the late opening of nearby Acadia National Park that spring. Because Clark was the most recent hire, the business claimed, it was proper for him to be let go first.
Thad Zmistowski, an attorney representing Geddy’s, told the five-member commission on Monday that such a “last-in, first-out” layoff approach was a “time-honored” business practice, and that “the disability provisions of the Human Rights Act are not intended to give disabled employees a leg up” over able-bodied employees.
Commissioners were hesitant to buy that argument, though, because an investigation revealed that Geddy’s advertised it was hiring for the same position held by Clark just three days after he was fired.
Clark suffers from a mild form of cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that can affect body movement and muscle coordination. Clark, who is represented by the Disabilities Rights Center, maintained he was confident that the cerebral palsy would not affect his ability to do his work.
According to a report by HRC investigator Michele Dion, Clark’s manager repeatedly referred to an apparent concern with his left hand during the nine days he was employed at Geddy’s. The investigator’s report says the manager told Clark she wasn’t sure he’d be able to continue working there.
She also allegedly told him about other places she thought were hiring, even offering to call one of the employers to see if she could get him a job elsewhere, Dion wrote. On May 26, 2013, the manager abruptly terminated his employment “because of his hand,” Clark alleged.
Zmistowski said Geddy’s only posted a job opening so quickly after letting Clark go because another employee gave notice that she would be leaving. Clark wasn’t recalled to work because his father had made an angry phone call to the manager who fired his son, prompting Geddy’s to rule out any further employment for Clark.
The commissioners were advised by staff that an unpleasant phone call did not excuse an apparent violation of the Human Rights Act’s disability protection provision, and Dion wrote in her report that she discovered that the manager already knew the other employee had plans to leave the store, but made no effort to ascertain that employee’s plan before firing Clark.
Geddy’s did not deny that concerns about Clark’s hand had been expressed during his employment, and during the meeting when he was fired, Dion’s report stated.
The commission voted 4-1 to accept Dion’s finding that reasonable grounds exist to believe Geddy’s discriminated against Clark because of an apparent physical disability. Commission member Mavourneen Thompson was the lone dissenting vote.
The decision by the commission will trigger a mediation process during which commission staff will attempt to reach an agreeable settlement between Clark and Geddy’s. Court action remains possible if a settlement cannot be reached.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.