AUGUSTA, Maine — A South Portland man who allegedly was called names that included “Mexican, midget and lazy” by his work supervisor likely was discriminated against by his employer, according to an investigator with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
The man, Jaime Guevara, is a native of El Salvador and has been a U.S. citizen since 2008. He was employed by Hartford Installations LLC of Damariscotta from June 2012 until May 2013. He told investigator Michele Dion that at first things were going well for him there. He was promoted to a supervisor position after a few months, and his pay was raised to $18.25 per hour. But when the retail installation company assigned him to work for three months at a Pennsylvania project in early 2013, the project manager treated him badly, he told Dion.
The manager joked about Guevara’s height, calling him a lazy midget in front of the crew, and insinuated he was an undocumented immigrant, Guevara told Dion. In March 2013, Guevara believed he had not been paid for all the hours he worked and showed the manager his pay stub.
“Project Manager 1 responded in an angry manner, saying ‘Mexicans do not deserve to get paid so much.’ Complainant said that he was not Mexican, and that he earned his wage by working hard,” Dion wrote in her March 26 report.
Guevara said he told a second project manager about what happened and said he was not comfortable working with the first manager but was told he had to continue working with him until the project was completed. After the assignment ended and he came home to Maine, he complained again about his mistreatment and said he did not want to work around the first project manager anymore, according to the report.
Instead, Guevara told Dion that management stopped putting him on the schedule reliably and told him it was because of what happened with the project manager in Pennsylvania. Then he was demoted from his supervisory position and had his wage reduced by nearly 25 percent. Guevara told management he hoped the reduction in pay was not because of “Project Manager 1’s comment that Mexicans should not be paid as much as [he] was.”
In response, Hartford Installations LLC management told Dion that Guevara supervisory functions were taken away from him because he was not an effective supervisor. His pay was reduced accordingly, the company indicated. Additionally, the company denied the behavior alleged by Guevara, adding the first project manager who reportedly called him a “lazy midget” was, in fact, the same height as the South Portland man. The company told Dion that Guevara’s hours also were reduced because there was not much work.
However, when Dion talked to other people who worked with Guevara in Pennsylvania, they said the project manager had been “degrading and called [Guevara] racist names.” One man told the investigator the company owner took Guevara off the schedule after he complained about his treatment in Pennsylvania.
The Maine Human Rights Act states that harassment on the basis of race or color is not allowed and that unwelcome comments, jokes, acts and other verbal or physical conduct constitute harassment when such conduct substantially interferes with a person’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Dion wrote Guevara was subjected to a hostile work environment because the statements allegedly made by the project manager were “humiliating and rose to the level of severely altering [the] environment. A reasonable person would consider it to be an abusive work environment, given the nature of the comments, which were blatant in their hostility and which epitomize racial stereotypes,” the investigator wrote.
Finally, Dion wrote that Guevara suffered unlawful retaliation when he suffered adverse actions at work after he had complained about the racial harassment.
The Maine Human Rights Commission is scheduled to vote on Guevara’s case Monday, April 27, at the board’s next regular meeting.