A group of migrant workers from Latin America is raising allegations of sexual harassment by a labor contractor for the Worcester Wreath Company, the company associated with the popular Wreaths Across America effort. Credit: Susan Sharon | Maine Public

Two people who worked at Worcester Wreaths’ plant and who lived in company housing in 2018 have filed a federal lawsuit against the company, alleging discrimination, sexual harassment and unlawful retaliation.

Walesca Rodriguez and Richard Rivera, a woman and man from Puerto Rico, allege that in late 2018, while working at Worcester Wreath’s Columbia Falls plant and living in a company dormitory in Harrington, an employment contractor repeatedly sexually harassed Rodriguez both on the job and in the dormitory.

Rivera, who was friends with Rodriguez, told the contractor to leave Rodriguez alone and to stop harassing her and other women in the dormitory, according to court documents.

After the harassment continued, Rodriguez and Rivera asked Worcester Wreath officials to intervene, but instead they were accused of breaking company rules, fired from their jobs and evicted from the dormitory, the complaint says.

The alleged acts constitute violations of federal law that prohibit workplace discrimination, the federal Fair Housing Act, the Maine Human Rights Act and the state’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, the former workers say.

In 2019, the pair filed separate complaints over the same allegations with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which later supported some of their claims but dismissed others.

In the complaint, which was filed last week in federal court in Bangor, Rodriguez and Rivera are seeking unspecified monetary damages, including back pay, and a court order preventing further violations of relevant state and federal law, including mandatory civil rights training for relevant company officials and employers in Worcester’s wreath-making enterprise.

The court complaint says that though company paperwork may suggest that the pair were formally employed by Damian Mejia and Brianna Mejia-Bouchard — the contractor in question and his wife — they were “misclassified” and in fact worked as de facto employees of the company by receiving training, specific job assignments and schedules provided or decided by Worcester Wreaths supervisors. In addition, the workers were under the impression that they and the Mejias were directly employed by Worcester Wreaths, the court complaint says.

The federal court complaint does not name the Mejias as defendants in the lawsuit.

About 800 people work as part of the Worcester wreath-making enterprise, which makes wreaths for retail sale and provides wreaths to Wreaths Across America, a not-for-profit entity that lays wreaths on veterans’ graves across the country during the holiday season.

Earlier this year, a Maine Human Rights Commission investigator found there were reasonable grounds to conclude that the husband-and-wife contracting team had violated the two workers’ rights, but that there weren’t reasonable grounds to conclude that the wreath company had done so. In June, the commission later supported the investigator’s findings, but two of its five members said they believed there were reasonable grounds to conclude that Worcester Wreaths had violated Rodriguez’s housing rights.

Timothy Woodcock, Worcester Wreaths’ attorney in the matter, said Tuesday the court complaint merely repeats the same arguments rejected by the commission.

“Rodriguez and Rivera are attempting to relitigate the same claims they lost before the Maine Human Rights Commission,” Woodcock said. “Their claims have no merit. Worcester will vigorously defend these unjust and unfair allegations.”

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....