PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — An AmeriCorps volunteer working at the University of Maine at Presque Isle who claims he was discriminated against after coming out as transgender has spurred an independent investigation into UMPI’s conduct.
The volunteer, who agreed to speak on the condition that his name not be used for fear of his personal safety, is in the federal AmeriCorps volunteer program working at UMPI as a mentor to students who are first-generation or from disadvantaged backgrounds. He alleges that UMPI staff told him they were discontinuing his program and did not hire him for a more permanent position as a director of campus engagement after he came out as transgender, despite being told earlier his program would be renewed and encouraging him to apply for the director position.
The complaint was filed with the UMPI Human Resources Department and the UMaine Office of Equal Opportunity. The Delaware-based Day Law Group is conducting the investigation. The volunteer also said he began preliminary paperwork with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
The complaint specifically alleges that Associate Dean of Students Sarah Coyer hired a less qualified candidate for the director of campus engagement position and allegedly told the volunteer they were discontinuing the Americorps program. It also says that President Raymond Rice failed to respond to safety concerns brought up about harassment due to the volunteer’s transgender status.
College campuses are known for their efforts to be inclusive spaces to marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ community. But UMPI is located in Maine’s Aroostook County, one of the most conservative areas of the state that only this year held its first-ever pride parade.
“I have chosen to stand with my conscience. Situations like this are a test of integrity, and not an easy decision,” he said. “The system is designed to avoid hearing concerns, stonewall, intimidate, fatigue and resist change.”
UMPI notified the volunteer that his program would be renewed for a second year less than two weeks before his contract was set to expire. He said he was later told the confusion regarding his second year was due to “miscommunication.”
“If you follow their ‘miscommunication’ logic to its end, it leads to incriminating themselves as grossly incompetent,” he said. “If someone kept asking you about Year 2 and you knew it was going to happen, why not send a two sentence email confirming Year 2? Why be evasive?”
Dan Demeritt, a spokesperson for the University of Maine system, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Correction: The original version of this story said Day Law Group was based in Philadelphia. Day Law is headquartered in Delaware but also provides counseling services out of Philadelphia.