September 23, 2018
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Attorney for disabled Maine shipyard workers eyes lawsuit

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Bath Iron Works' largest crane towers over the shipyard in Bath in May.
By Beth Brogan, BDN Staff

BATH, Maine — An attorney representing 15 to 20 Bath Iron Works employees who claimed the company discriminated against them due to their age and disability said Monday that if no settlement is reached with the company out of court, he will likely file suit in U.S. District Court, seeking up to $300,000 in what he says are lost overtime wages.

“We are investigating all of our options,” Jeffrey Young of Johnson, Webbert and Young said Monday afternoon following a vote by the Maine Human Rights Commission to end the formal complaint process for two employees and issue them “right to sue” letters.

Young said he and counsel for BIW “had some progress toward a settlement” prior to the commission’s investigator issuing her reports, “but we were unable to resolve them … Frankly, we’re hopeful that we will be able to resolve these two cases as well as a group of other cases where [the commission] found no reasonable grounds.”

Bath Iron Works spokesman Matt Wickenheiser did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

In October, the commission voted unanimously to dismiss 14 of the complaints after a commission investigator found no reasonable grounds that the shipyard had discriminated against the workers.

On Monday, the commission voted 3-1 to issue right to sue letters to Rodney Kates of Lewiston and Richard Roberts of Lisbon Falls. The letters mean the two employees have completed the obligatory 180-day commission process and have chosen to end the complaint process through the commission and instead pursue legal action.

Kates alleged that BIW discriminated against him based on his age and his disability, as well as in denying him reasonable accommodation for his disability, as required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Roberts alleged discrimination based on age and physical disability.

Victoria Ternig, chief investigator for the commission, recommended the commission find reasonable grounds to support two of three complaints by Kates — that he was discriminated against based on his physical disability and by BIW failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for that disability.

She recommended the commission find reasonable grounds to support Roberts’ claims of discrimination based on his disability.

Young said that despite the commission finding no reasonable grounds for 14 of the workers, he hopes to resolve all of them, which he said showed “a common fact pattern.”

“They were all working as [grinders] and BIW decided that although it had for many years been accommodating their restrictions, BIW determined it was no longer able to do so,” Young said. “It required all of them to move into different positions. As a result of their transfer, they lost overtime opportunities … of somewhere between $100,000 and $300,000.”

If no resolution is reached, Young said he would likely file in U.S. District Court, joining all of the related cases as one.

 


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