March 17, 2018
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Maine man sues restaurant claiming racial harassment

Courtesy of Curtis Smith
Courtesy of Curtis Smith
Curtis Smith
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

A man has sued the owner of a Washington County restaurant claiming two fellow employees racially harassed him and management retaliated against him for reporting it.

Curtis Smith, 36, of Princeton seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages along with back pay and attorney’s fees.

Smith worked at the restaurant in the Irving Big Stop in Baileyville from July 24, 2014, until July 28, 2016, according to the complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court in Bangor. In 2015 and 2016, he was the night shift supervisor and cook at the restaurant, owned by Great American Real Food Fast, Inc., headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut.

Smith now works as a cook at a restaurant in Princeton, according to his attorney, Erik Black of Bangor.

“Curtis feels this was an isolated incident,” Black said. “He does not believe that most people in Washington County and the rest of Maine are racist.”

The harassment allegedly began in November 2016 when Smith reported a fellow employee had given away free meals to family and friends against company policy. That employee’s son, who also worked at the restaurant, went into the kitchen and asked Smith, “‘Are you the HNIC?’” the complaint said.

“Smith asked [the employee] what ‘HNIC’ meant, to which [he] replied, ‘Head n——r in charge,’’” the complaint said. “[He] then lifted his shirt and gestured toward a gun that was tucked into his pants. Smith reported the threat, as well as the racial slur, to management.”

The Bangor Daily News is not naming the employee or her son because it could not confirm whether they had been charged with any crimes.

In the following months, Smith alleged that the pair made “racially derogatory comments” about him that included references to his liking watermelon and fried chicken and being in a gang. Smith reported the harassment to management and asked to be placed on a different shift, to no avail, the complaint said.

In May 2016, Smith claimed he was told that the employees who allegedly harassed him would not be returning to work after Smith reported they’d stolen food. But they were back at work a week later, the complaint said. When Smith complained, he allegedly was told he would have to work with the pair if he wanted to keep his job.

Because Smith did not feel safe at the restaurant, he left and filed a discrimination complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, according to the lawsuit. He returned to work weeks later “under conditions that were acceptable to both parties,” the complaint said. Those conditions weren’t disclosed in the complaint.

In July 2016, Smith was pressured by a representative from Great American Real Food Fast’s home office to drop his racial discrimination and harassment complaint, the lawsuit said. He refused to discuss it with the representative.

The next day when Smith arrived for the morning shift, he discovered the overnight prep work had not been completed. Smith considered that to be “workstation sabotage” aimed at him because he had refused to withdraw his complaint. He left work because of the incident and called his attorney. A few days later, Smith was fired for allegedly leaving work without permission.

Carol Eisenberg, the Portland attorney representing the company, did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

In addition to the Maine Human Rights Commission filing, Smith filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In November, he received right-to-sue letters from each agency, the complaint said.

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