Atty. Gray: Clear Pan Am violated the law

Read the entire story here at the Kennebec Journal.

RailroadWinslow man says Pan Am fired him for medical leave request.



“I think it is pretty clear they violated the law,” said Allison Gray, a human rights attorney from Johnson Webbert and Young in Augusta, which represents Thomas.

On Thursday, Gray said that unlike what happens in many other investigations, Beauchesne did not hold conferences with the parties and only used their initial filings to make his investigative decisions.

That is “a sign of the strength of our case” and Pan Am’s liability, Gray said.

Allison Gray says her client will file suit against T-Mobile

Read or listen to the entire article here at MPBN News.

Agganis’ lawyer Allison Gray says her client will file suit in federal court this week against T-Mobile, alleging that the company subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her gender.

“What we feel is she should have been taken seriously, and instead she was silenced,” Gray says. “And that practice violates her civil rights.”

Agganis says she’s bringing suit, in part, to be a voice for those who may not feel empowered to do so.


Represented by Allison Gray, Waterville woman sues T-Mobile alleging sexual harassment

Read the entire article here at the Portland Press Herald.

Former employee Angela Agganis says she was touched inappropriately by a call center supervisor.

Angela Agganis of Waterville filed a complaint Oct. 9 in U.S. District Court in Portland, accusing the company of subjecting her to a hostile work environment based on her sex. She is represented by Allison Gray, a civil rights attorney with Johnson, Webbert and Young in Augusta.

Allison Gray, “A lawsuit will be filed against T-Mobile.”

Read the full article here at the Morning Sentinel

Agganis press conferenceFormer T-Mobile employee to sue over harassment at Oakland call center

Angela Agganis was asked to sign a gag order after she complained to human resources about sexual harassment from a superior, and labor groups say T-Mobile has a practice of ‘muzzling’ employees.

OAKLAND — A former T-Mobile employee who was prohibited from discussing a sexual harassment complaint she made against a superior plans to sue the company in federal court, and labor activists are using her case to call attention to company practice that “muzzles” employees who speak out about working conditions.

At a Tuesday morning news conference near the entrance of the company’s Oakland call center, Angela Agganis, of Waterville, said she worked for the company for nearly eight years and endured repeated sexual harassment from a male superior, including inappropriate touching.

When Agganis complained to human resources about the harassment in August 2014, she was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement prohibiting her from discussing the investigation with anyone and was told that if she didn’t comply with the terms of the gag order, she could be fired.

. . . . . . . .

Agganis said she signed the agreement but then immediately resigned.

. . . . . . . .

“People are scared to get fired here,” she told reporters following the event. “I just got to a point where I was more angry than scared.”

. . . . . . . .

“When people are harassed at work, especially when they are sexually harassed at work, they have a right to speak out without intimidation,” Dubnau said.

Before she complained to human resources, Agganis said, she did some research and found out that her superior had a track record of harassment.

“I began to have panic attacks. I said enough was enough,” she said.

Agganis said she asked that her superior be suspended during the internal investigation, but he was not. She quit her job because she didn’t feel safe with him in the building, she said.

Many of the call center workers are young women, and she thought she needed to make her story public to help protect other women from being harassed.

“I just really want all these people to be safe,” Agganis said.

Allison Gray, an employment and civil rights attorney from the Augusta law firm Johnson Webbert and Young, said Agganis filed a complaint in January with the Maine Human Rights Commission and requested and received a right to sue. A lawsuit will be filed against T-Mobile in Maine federal district court later this week, she said.

. . . . . . . .

In August, a judge from the National Labor Relations Board ruled that T-Mobile had violated U.S. labor law in North Carolina and Oakland when it had employees sign confidentiality agreements after opening internal investigations. The ruling required T-Mobile to rescind its policy and inform workers it had violated labor laws.

In March, another NLRB judge ruled that T-Mobile had committed 11 separate violations of labor law at locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Wichita, Kansas, Charleston, South Carolina, and New York City. In that ruling, the judge found that the company’s confidentiality requirements, including gag orders during internal investigations, violated workers’ right to talk openly about issues in the workplace.

. . . . . . . .


MHRC finds reasonable grounds to believe Pan Am Railways unlawfully discriminated against Maine worker on account of his having cancer

Read the full article at the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinal here.

In several other cases involving local people and organizations, commissioners found reasonable grounds to believe that Eric L. Thomas of Winslow was subjected to unlawful disability discrimination by Pan Am Railways Inc., of Billerica, Massachusetts, when the company refused to grant accommodations, terminated his employment and retaliated against him.

The investigator’s report indicated Thomas worked for Pan Am at the railroad company’s location in Waterville from July 2012 to Feb. 28, 2014, first as a machinist and then as assistant manager. He took medical leave for cancer treatment and returned to the company as a machinist rather than his former position.

Educating and Employing Our Veterans

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Veterans Day is a federal holiday to honor all people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Formerly Armistice Day, it is held on November 11 each year, to recognize the official end of World War I, reached on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. Following World War II, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day to recognize all veterans of all wars. Veterans do have federal employment privileges arising out of their service to our country that other employees do not enjoy. In recognition of the sacrifices made by those serving in the Armed Forces, Congress enacted the Veterans’ Preference Act in 1944. It requires the federal government to favor returning war veterans when hiring new employees in an attempt to recognize their service, sacrifice, and skills and to prevent veterans seeking federal employment from being penalized because of time spent in military service. By law, veterans who are disabled or who served on active duty in the Armed Forces during certain specified periods or in military campaigns are generally entitled to preference over non-veterans both in federal hiring practices and in retention during reductions in force.

However, there is no such preference or protection in private employment and Veterans Day is a good day to acknowledge and support our veterans in their efforts to find suitable and sustainable employment once they return from active duty.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 just over 21 million men and women, or approximately 10% of the civilian non-institutional population age 18 and over, are veterans. The total unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001 – a group referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans – dropped from 10% in 2013 to 7.2% in 2014.

For male Gulf War-era II veterans, the unemployment rate dropped from 9.6% in 2013 to 6.2% in 2014. However, the 2014 6.2% unemployment rate for male Gulf War-era II veterans is still 1% higher than the 2014 unemployment rate for non-institutionalized civilian men over the age of 18 (5.2%).

For female Gulf War-era II veterans, the picture is far worse. Female veterans had an unemployment rate of 11.6% in 2013 and 11.2% in 2014; those rates are significantly higher than their civilian counterparts. In 2013 the unemployment rate for non-institutionalized civilian women over the age of 18 was 6.5% and in 2014 it is down to 5.7%, nearly half the rate of unemployment for female veterans who served on active duty since September 2001.

The disparity in employment between veterans and civilians – particularly for women – is significant. Therefore, it is important to maintain a robust GI Bill, so that veterans can achieve their educational goals in order to be able to pursue promising employment opportunities once they return to civilian life.

To that end, in 2008, Congress passed a new, more generous version of the GI Bill that went into effect in August 2009. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, is an effort to pay for veterans’ college expenses to a similar extent that the original GI Bill did after World War II. The main provisions of the act include funding 100% of a public four-year undergraduate education to a veteran who has served three years on active duty since September 11, 2001. The Act also provides the ability for the veteran to transfer benefits to a spouse or children after serving (or agreeing to serve) ten years.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill sought to shore up an earlier iteration, the Montgomery G.I. Bill, which was signed into law in 1984 and replaced both the Post-Vietnam Veterans’ Assistance Program and its predecessor, the original WWII GI Bill. But as college costs continued to skyrocket, in most cases the Montgomery GI Bill wasn’t enough. The $800 monthly subsidy barely covered community college, let alone the expense of a four-year degree. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill described the prior educational assistance as “outmoded and designed for peacetime service.” The Post-9/11 GI Bill gained bipartisan traction once Sen. Olympia Snowe signed on.

Subsequently, on December 2010 Congress passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2010. Significantly, while the new law, often referred to as GI Bill 2.0, attempted to expand eligibility and certain benefits, it removed the state-by-state tuition caps for veterans enrolled at public (state-operated) colleges and universities. Under this law, beginning in August 2011 the Department of Veterans Affairs only has covered up to $17,500 a year at private schools, and only paid “the actual net cost for in-State tuition and fees assessed” by public schools.

Due to the differing residency rules from state to state, the caps have caused some veterans who utilize the Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay the difference.To remedy this situation, a bipartisan bill, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act, has been introduced in the 113th Congress. On February 3, 2014, the US House of Representatives passed the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013, and, if enacted, the bill would require states to offer veterans the in-state tuition price instead of the out-of-state tuition price, regardless of whether the veteran met the residency requirement. Passage of this Act would better enable our more recent veterans to obtain the education they need to compete more successfully in a competitive job market.

And, as George Washington poignantly recognized,

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war,
no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive
veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by this country.”

National Coming Out Day and Workplace Protections in Maine Against Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

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This past Saturday, October 11, 2014 was the 26th National Coming Out Day, an annual civil awareness day, now internationally observed on October 11 to promote awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues and to celebrate the LGBTQ – “Q” for “queer” or “questioning” – community. “It’s a day to be visible,” Candace Gingrich-Jones, an activist at the Human Rights Campaign, has said. “What we know today is people who know someone who is queer are much more likely to understand the issues of inequality and be supportive of the work to gain that equality.”

National Coming Out Day was founded on October 11, 1988 in celebration of the second March on Washington D.C. for Lesbian and Gay Rights a year earlier, in which half a million people participated to demand equal rights. At that time, no anti-discrimination laws protected people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Specifically, LGBT individuals had no legal recourse if discriminated against in employment.

Only as recently as 2005 did Maine firmly establish its anti-discrimination law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity or expression. On November 8, 2005, Maine voters agreed to keep in place a law, LD 1196, “An Act to Extend Civil Rights Protections to All People Regardless of Sexual Orientation”, passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Baldacci in the spring of 2005. The law went into effect December 28, 2005, making Maine the last New England state to legally protect LGBT individuals from discrimination (but one of the first three states to do so by ballot rather than judicial decision).

The November 2005 vote ratifying the legislation passed earlier that year marked the end of a long struggle in Maine to achieve legal protections for LGBT people. In November 1995, Maine voters rejected an attempt to limit the protected classes to those already included within the non-discrimination law. In May 1997, Maine approved an anti-discrimination law based on sexual orientation, but this law was repealed in a special election in February 1998. Then in November 2000, by the smallest of margins, Maine voters failed to ratify a second anti-discrimination law that had been approved by the legislature.

Today under the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA), individuals identifying as – or even perceived as – lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender have legal protection against discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing, credit and education.

With regard to employment, the MHRA forbids employers from refusing to hire, or discharging, or discriminating against an employee with respect to any employment matter on the basis of the employee’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, identity or expression and also forbids employers from using any employment agency that discriminates. Employment matters include hiring, tenure, promotion, transfer, compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment including fringe benefits. The MHRA applies to private employers with any number of employees and local and state governmental employers, as well as employment agencies and labor organizations.

The MHRA does contain a religious exemption to the prohibition of discrimination in employment on account of sexual orientation for certain non-profit religious entities as well as provides an exception when the discrimination is based on a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). However, the BFOQ exception is construed very narrowly, and significantly, the BFOQ exception does not apply to the refusal – and therefore it is an unlawful employment practice to refuse – to select an individual because of the preferences or prejudices of others, including, but not limited to, coworkers, clients, business associates, or customers.

Also, in September 2007, the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) adopted amendments to its employment and housing rules that expressly acknowledge the existence of sexual orientation harassment. Under these rules, unwelcome comments, jokes, acts, and other verbal or physical conduct on the basis of sexual orientation constitute harassment.

We certainly have come a long way since 1953, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared homosexuals a threat to national security and ordered the immediate firing of every gay man and lesbian working for the U.S. government. Today the federal government also has a policy of non-discrimination protecting its employees from sexual orientation discrimination; however, unfortunately, there is currently no federal statute prohibiting private sector sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace and there remains much work to be done to achieve LGBT equality.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is federal legislation that has been proposed that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by employers with at least 15 employees. ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994, except the 109th. Beginning in 2009, ENDA legislation that also included gender identity was introduced in both the House and the Senate. Only just last year, on November 7, 2013, did the Senate approve the 2013 version of ENDA – co-sponsored by our senators Angus King and Susan Collins – with bipartisan support by a vote of 64-32. Last month in the House, on September 17, 2014, a petition was filed, which, if signed by a majority of the House members, would force a vote on the 2013 version of ENDA including a narrow religious exemption. By September 22, the petition had been endorsed by 190 of the 218 Representatives that constitute a majority to force further action.

Maine has been ahead of the federal government, as well as many other states, in protecting employees against discrimination on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity; however, more can be done. Harvey Milk used to urge workers to come out, to “stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight,” he would say, “than anybody would imagine…. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.”

National Coming Out Day remains significant today, and this November, forty years after the first openly LGBT candidate, Kathy Kozachenko, won elected office in the United States – to a seat on the Ann Arbor, Mich., city council in 1974 – Maine voters will decide whether Maine will become the first state to elect an openly-gay gubernatorial candidate to office.

The Spirit of Labor Day

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For many, especially here in Maine, Labor Day is a celebration of the unofficial end of summer and signals the beginning of the school year. For the consumers among us, it is also known as one of the largest sales dates of the year. But the spirit of Labor Day, as originally conceived, embodies so much more.

Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 to celebrate the American labor movement and, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

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The original sentiment of Labor Day, as a celebration of the American worker, could not have been expressed any better than by Arthur “Artie T.” Demoula last Thursday when he spoke to the employees of Market Basket, after their 6 weeks of protests against Artie T’s ouster by his cousin led to a deal for Artie T’s purchase of the company.* Addressing those employees outside Market Basket headquarters a day after the deal was announced, Artie T. commended them on their courage and said:

You have demonstrated that in this organization here at Market Basket everyone is special. You have demonstrated that everyone here has a purpose. You have demonstrated that everyone has meaning and no one person is better or more important than another, and no one person holds a position of privilege, whether it’s a full-timer or a part-timer, whether it’s a sacker or a cashier or a grocery clerk or a truck driver or a warehouse selector, a store manager, a supervisor, a customer, a vendor, or a CEO — we are all equal. We are all equal, and by working together, and only together, do we succeed.

As encouraging as Artie T.’s words are, we all know that the Market Basket story – workers striking in favor of their ousted billionaire CEO – is atypical and, even more so, that Artie T.’s assertion that all employees are equal – from grocery clerk to CEO – is not universally accepted.

Rather, employers often resist working with employees to resolve workplace issues, especially when the employees are collectively organized in unions, as has recently been demonstrated by FairPoint Communications’ attitude towards negotiations with its unionized Maine employees, represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America. Yesterday on Labor Day, FairPoint workers rallied in Portland for better contract terms after FairPoint walked away – coincidentally also on last Thursday – from contract negotiations with the unions.

Labor Day is intended to be a tribute to the American worker. American workers should not have to use Labor Day as an opportunity to raise public awareness of employer efforts to attack employee pay, benefits, and job security, yet too often that is the case. Ideally more employers, including FairPoint, will embrace Artie T.’s sentiment that the workplace should be a “place where respect and honor and dignity is a way of life” so that Labor Day can be the national celebration of “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” as it was intended to be.