The Portland Sea Dogs baseball team has dropped its affiliation with Shain’s of Maine after the ice cream company’s owner used a racial slur with an African-American employee.
The team announced Friday that it had terminated its relationship with Shain’s of Maine effective immediately after conducting its own internal investigation.
The decision comes after an 18-year-old former employee of the Sanford-based ice cream company quit her job Tuesday because her boss, Jeff Shain, used the n-word in conversation with her, she said.
Iaomi Nichols, an African American woman who worked at the Shain’s of Maine outlet in Sanford, said that she was “shaking and caught off guard” when Shain, the company owner, asked her why white people couldn’t use the racial slur.
Nichols went to work Tuesday, “punched in and started to stock up for the day,” she said. Shain came into the room where Nichols and other employees were and the two exchanged greetings.
“After that, I walked into the other room and he followed me and he said why can black people say n*gger but whites can’t?” Nichols said.
Nichols was shocked and didn’t have a response to Shain’s question. “I felt like he was mocking me,” she said.
By her account, Shain left the room where Nichols had been to attend to a phone call. Nichols sought out a colleague and explained the incident. She then texted her mother, Melitta Nichols, to tell her what happened before she confronted Shain directly.
When she found Shain alone, Nichols asked if he was serious when he asked her the question, she said. He told her he was “semi-serious,” she said.
Nichols let him have it, telling Shain that the word was inappropriate because it was “used to denigrate my people for centuries.”
“He scoffed and acted like he didn’t care,” she said. Nichols quit and went home.
In a social media post made Wednesday, Shain said that he was commenting on the use of the word as it was used in music that employees were playing in the store.
“Let this be clear: I was commenting on the offensive language used in the music,” Shain wrote. “At no time did I comment on anyone’s race, or direct racial slurs at anyone. I did not mean for any of this conversation to be offensive and there was absolutely no intent to hurt anyone. I am sorry for any hurt that it has caused.”
Attempts by the BDN to reach Jeff Shain were not successful, and messages were not immediately returned.
Shain’s of Maine is a Sanford-based ice cream manufacturing company that was founded in 1979. The company is known for the “Sea Dog Biscuit,” an ice cream sandwich designed for a contract with the Portland Sea Dogs, a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
A spokesperson for the Sea Dogs did not divulge details about the organization’s investigation of the incident, but said that “it was revealed that cutting ties was the right thing to do.”
Thousands have protested racism and police brutality in Portland over the last week, echoing a national uprising sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who was killed in custody of Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes. Floyd died of asphyxia, it was later determined. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death.
Protesters are expected to convene in Sanford’s Gowen Park Saturday afternoon.
Nichols had typically worked in the same building as Shain since she started with the company in February of last year. By her account, Shain had made a habit of making comments about her, about “my hair, my intelligence, my color,” she said, and that she was “from the ghetto” because she hailed from Detroit.
Melitta Nichols, Iaomi’s mother, said that her daughter came home and “fell into [her] arms, crying” after the incident Tuesday. She called Shain to discuss the incident with him, and found his response to be dismissive.
“I expressed to him how I felt and it seemed like he had no concern,” Melitta Nichols said. There was “a lot of huffing and puffing” as if she were “annoying him with what I was saying.”
Melitta Nichols ended the call with nothing resolved, so she posted about the incident on social media Wednesday.
Melitta Nichols called the incident a clear example of “racial discrimination” Friday morning, saying that her family fears retribution from calling out the misconduct of a “pillar of the community.”
“I haven’t had an appetite to eat, I can’t sleep, I am afraid,” she said. “This is an emotional, close-to-the-bone issue.”