A Maine Human Rights Commission investigator found merit in a teacher’s complaint that the Brewer School Department had created a hostile work environment and retaliated against her when she complained about anti-LGBTQ discrimination. 

News Center Maine first reported about the investigator’s findings. 

Michelle MacDonald, a longtime English teacher and co-advisor for Brewer High School’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance club, filed a complaint in October 2019 against the school department and two fellow English teachers, Breanne Pelletier and Paul Wellman. 

MacDonald alleged that the department, Pelletier and Wellman had discriminated against her beginning in 2017 and through March 2020 based on “sexual orientation due to her association with and advocacy for persons who are transgender,” according to a copy of the investigator’s report.

Maine Human Rights Commission investigator Jane O’Reilly did not find reasonable grounds that Pelletier or Wellman had discriminated against MacDonald. O’Reilly did recommend a finding that the Brewer School Department had discriminated and then retaliated against MacDonald by removing her as a curriculum leader after she made two internal complaints that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment. 

MacDonald said that she had been subject to disparaging remarks from other staff due to her parenting of a transgender child and her pushing for more staff training, student presentations and “other steps to help create and maintain a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ students.” 

In the report, O’Reilly found that while the Brewer School Department hadn’t ignored MacDonald’s reports about being “repeatedly subjected to offensive [anti-LGBTQ] remarks,” there was evidence to support MacDonald’s claims that the school department hadn’t taken her claims seriously as law requires.

The Maine Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex, gender identity and/or expression. 

Superintendent Gregg Palmer said that the department was committed to resolving the issue.

“While we cannot guarantee every interaction unfolds in the way a given person expects it should, we thoroughly investigate each incident whenever it is brought to our attention and take appropriate actions,” he said. 

The Maine Human Rights Commission will meet July 19 to discuss the report’s findings. 

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.