Katler says ruling protects all Maine workers from illegal retaliation.

Read the entire story here in the Kennebec Journal.

A human rights panel sided with a Farmingdale man in an employment discrimination complaint . . .

……….

The Maine Human Rights Commission voted 2-1 Monday to find reasonable grounds to believe a Farmingdale man, Conrod Wilson, was a victim of retaliation when he was fired within a week of telling management he believed he was a victim of race discrimination.

Wilson had complained to the commission about his termination from his job with GIRI Community Drive LLC/GIRI Hotel Management of Augusta/Best Western of Augusta.

……….

Wilson, who previously lived in Randolph, worked for the hotel in the housekeeping department from March 2011 until his firing on Feb. 21, 2013. He was removed from his job as breakfast room attendant, described as a desirable post, in Feb. 14, 2013, and given other housekeeping/cleaning responsibilities.

“He was told quote, ‘Management wants an older white woman in that position,’” Wilson’s attorney, Max Katler, told commissioners.

When Wilson told management he believed that was unlawful discrimination, Wilson was fired, Katler said.

……….

The case now moves into a conciliation phase, and Katler said after the hearing that if that process fails, he anticipates moving forward with a federal lawsuit against the hotel.

“The MHRC has sent Best Western an important message that it cannot punish employees who report reasonable concerns about illegal discrimination in the workplace,” Katler said later via email. “This ruling protects all Maine workers from illegal retaliation and reminds all employers that Maine has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination in the workplace.”

……….

Sidney woman, represented by Max Katler, wins at Maine Human Rights Commission

The Maine Human Rights Commission decided earlier this week that there are reasonable grounds to believe Brenda Webber was a victim of disability discrimination.

Read the full story here at the Kennebec Journal.

A state human rights panel sided with a former housekeeper at a Waterville hotel earlier this week, finding reasonable grounds to believe she was a victim of disability discrimination when she was fired after asking for a 12-week leave under the Family Medical Leave Act following two heart attacks and coronary bypass surgery.

Brenda Webber, of Sidney, had worked for the Waterville Hampton Inn for a year before her April 12, 2013, heart attack.

After Webber’s termination, she filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission. She was represented by attorney Max Katler.

. . . . . . . .

Webber had alleged she was a victim of discrimination because of her physical disability — coronary artery disease. She said the hotel refused to grant a reasonable accommodation of unpaid medical leave or to allow her to work in a light duty position and instead terminated her from her job.

. . . . . . . .

The commission voted to find that there were reasonable grounds to believe Webber was subjected to disability discrimination for failure to accommodate and for termination.

. . . . . . . .

Cases with reasonable grounds findings move into a conciliation stage. They can become grounds for lawsuits.

 

 

 

Katler says, “Ruling protects all Maine workers from illegal retaliation . . . “

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

AUGUSTA — A human rights panel sided with a Farmingdale man in an employment discrimination complaint and a Skowhegan landlord in a housing discrimination complaint.

The two were among the local cases handled Monday by the Maine Human Rights Commission. The panel’s findings are not law, but may become grounds for lawsuits.

The Maine Human Rights Commission voted 2-1 Monday to find reasonable grounds to believe a Farmingdale man, Conrod Wilson, was a victim of retaliation when he was fired within a week of telling management he believed he was a victim of race discrimination.

Wilson had complained to the commission about his termination from his job with GIRI Community Drive LLC/GIRI Hotel Management of Augusta/Best Western of Augusta.

In a separate issue, the commission voted 3-0 against Wilson on his charge that he was a victim of discrimination because of race, color, national origin/ancestry, age and sex. Wilson, now 37, is originally from Jamaica, according to the report of the commission investigator.

Wilson, who previously lived in Randolph, worked for the hotel in the housekeeping department from March 2011 until his firing on Feb. 21, 2013. He was removed from his job as breakfast room attendant, described as a desirable post, in Feb. 14, 2013, and given other housekeeping/cleaning responsibilities.

“He was told quote, ‘Management wants an older white woman in that position,’” Wilson’s attorney, Max Katler, told commissioners.

When Wilson told management he believed that was unlawful discrimination, Wilson was fired, Katler said.

The management, through attorney Bob Kline, told commissioners that Wilson was fired because he failed to re-clean a large bathroom in a common area after being told to do so and walked off the job. According to the commission investigator’s report, management also said that Wilson repeatedly failed to turn in required checklists about the work he had done each day.

The case now moves into a conciliation phase, and Katler said after the hearing that if that process fails, he anticipates moving forward with a federal lawsuit against the hotel.

“The MHRC has sent Best Western an important message that it cannot punish employees who report reasonable concerns about illegal discrimination in the workplace,” Katler said later via email. “This ruling protects all Maine workers from illegal retaliation and reminds all employers that Maine has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination in the workplace.”

Wilson said after the hearing that he has since found employment in another industry. Kline was in a meeting and unavailable to respond after the hearing.

Bates College Leading the Way in Disability Employment

Read it here.

Last Friday, I attended the Disability Rights Center’s annual dinner in Freeport, where Bates College was presented with the DRC’s 2014 Business Award for actively recruiting individuals with disabilities to the workforce. Bates, which employs more than 750 Maine people, worked with the Maine Department of Labor to develop a systemic approach to actively recruit people with disabilities into its workforce.

We need more employers like Bates.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This under-the-radar “awareness” event is meant to draw attention to the plight of millions of Americans with disabilities who are disproportionately unemployed. Unfortunately, far too many people with disabilities who want to work real jobs and can succeed in the workplace with proper support are left with no option but a life of dependence, poverty and isolation.

These talented people who are eager to contribute to society often end up isolated in expensive taxpayer-funded day programs. When these programs offer “employment” at all, they typically pay far less than the minimum wage, leaving the people they serve dependent on government assistance.

Maine is at the forefront of a new movement trying to make the dream of employment a reality for more people. A year ago, the legislature quietly passed the Employment First Maine Act. This new law aims to make employment a priority, requiring service providers for people with disabilities to offer help finding employment first and often. This means that before being relegated to isolating day programs or sub-minimum-wage employment, people with disabilities should get the extra help they need to find jobs that maximize their potential.

Real employment for people with disabilities is a win-win-win for people with disabilities, employers, and society. People with disabilities get to participate more independently in society and experience the pride that only comes from supporting yourself.  Society benefits when people with disabilities can support themselves. And despite false stereotypes, employers benefit from employing people with disabilities.

A US Chamber of Commerce report explains “Successful businesses recognize that incorporating disability in all diversity and inclusion practices positively impacts their companies’ bottom line.” The report goes on to highlight the inclusive practices of industry leading companies like AT&T, Lowe’s, Walgreens, 3M, and Verizon. In a study by the federal government’s Job Accommodation Network, employers reported that accommodations for disability usually cost employers very little and more often than not cost absolutely nothing. A De Paul University study found that employees with disabilities stayed employed longer, had fewer absences and that accommodations were free or inexpensive.

A lot of work remains to be done. A year after the passage of the Employment First Maine Act, Maine’s Commissioner of Labor reports that “fewer than one third of working age Mainers with disabilities are employed. Of those seeking work, nearly 20 percent are unemployed.”

And the De Paul University study discussed above found evidence of manager bias against employees with disabilities.

Bates is leading the way forward with its active recruitment program. As more people and businesses pay attention to the problem of unemployment among people with disabilities, things are starting to look up.

Wild Maine Blueberries

Read it here.

As blueberry season draws to a close this year, one thing is clear: My 9 month old daughter loves wild Maine blueberries. Sure, she likes peaches and applesauce, but blueberries (she calls them “boo baas”) are a fruit above the rest. She isn’t alone, either. Last year, Maine farmers produced 87 million pounds of wild blueberries. All of those berries aren’t just delicious; research has shown they have many health benefits. And they are a Maine signature–Maine is the only state with a commercial wild blueberry harvest.

But a lawsuit filed on behalf of 18 migrant farm workers by Pine Tree Legal Assistance reveals a darker side to this delicious and nutritious fruit. The plaintiffs, all U.S. Citizens and legal residents of Haitian decent, say they were lured to Maine with false promises of pay and hours, then housed in deplorable, unsanitary conditions.

Among other complaints, these workers claim they were forced to sleep in abandoned cars or on crowded floors in pest infested housing, dozens of people had to share one bathroom with no toilet paper, and that they were packed like sardines into overcrowded vans to get to work. It all sounds like something from the distant past or a developing country, but these workers say it happened to them just a few years ago, right here in Maine.

Harvesting all of those delicious berries has always been hard work. And although some of the harvesting is now done by machine, a lot is still done the old fashioned way, by workers bent over low-bush blueberry plants with hand rakes. Each year, more than a thousand migrant farm workers come to Maine and work hard to make our blueberry harvest a success.

The hard working men and women who make it possible for us to enjoy Maine’s unique flavors deserve to be treated with respect, but it seems that some blueberry companies have decided that they can mistreat workers to gain an unfair advantage over their law-abiding competitors. Hopefully, this lawsuit will teach them that abusing workers doesn’t pay. Still, like a rotten berry, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Max Katler supports Webbert Jury trial win with cutting edge trial technology

Jury Finds for Whistleblower, published in Maine Lawyers Review by Jo Lynn Southard

A jury in Washington County Superior Court unanimously reached a verdict in 30 minutes on March 21 in favor of Richard Hickson, who was fired for sending an email to Governor John Baldacci about safety issues at a paper mill. Governor Baldacci had just visited the mill, and Hickson sent an email to the governor’s website noting that several members of the governor’s party, and the governor himself, were not wearing proper footwear or respirators while touring the mill.

Hickson, who was represented by David Webbert of Johnson & Webbert in Augusta, was fired and filed suit under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

“This was a good case to emphasize the importance” of the Whistleblower Protection Act, Webbert said. He added that he believed it was the largest civil rights verdict ever rendered in Washington County, with his client awarded $175,000 in punitive damages, $35,000 in nonwage compensatory damages, back pay damages of about $7,000, and attorney fees.

The plaintiff found a new job at higher pay within six month of his firing, which explains the relatively low back pay award. In an email, defendant’s attorney AJ Greif, of Gilbert & Greif in Bangor, said, “We have already filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law …. An appeal is certain and we hope that it is plaintiff who appeals from the trial court, posttrial, entering judgment for defendant.”

Greif continued, “We feel extremely confident that the Law Court will ultimately rule that it meant what it said in Costain v. Sunbury Primary Care, P.A.: that the whistleblowing must. be about a violation ‘committed or practiced by that employer.’Mr. Hickson readily admitted that any safety violation he perceived was by officials at Domtar [Maine, LLC] over whom Vescom had no control. He admitted that Vescom did nothing wrong that day.

“As we conceded to the jury and the court that the email to the Governor led to the firing and the jury was never instructed that the whistleblowing had to be about a ‘violation committed or practiced by that employer,’ we were deprived of any defense. The jury had to decide whether Hickson had raised a safety concern and whether he got fired for doing that. “For them it was a no-brainer, as they were never told what the law actually required. “The jury still deliberated for 45 minutes.”

Webbert replied, “Pamela Treadwell, the Vescom official who fired Mr. Hickson and who is the top management official for the Company and who reports only to a passive owner, testified under oath that the safety rule for visitors that Mr. Hickson relied on in his whistleblower email to the Governor was Vescom’s ‘bible’, Vescom’s ‘responsibility’ to enforce for the client, and ‘the rules that Vescom lives by.”

He continued, “Justice Murray already carefully considered and rejected Defendant’s reliance on Costain when the court rejected that argument in its ruling denying summary judgment. …As Justice Murray ruled on summary judgment, Costain is not on point because it did not involve retaliation for a whistleblower report about unsafe conditions in Plaintiff’s workplace but instead an employee who participated in a legal proceeding that had nothing to do with the employer who fired the Plaintiff.”

Webbert was assisted at trial by his daughter, Johnson & Webbert Legal Assistant Theresa Katler, son-in-law, Max Katler (a third-year student at Maine Law), and son, Jacob Webbert-who was on spring break. His son-in-law setup equipment that allowed the jury to see videotaped depositions. “It’s probably the first time in Washington County that video depositions were shown during trial,” Webbert said.

“It’s rare in this state; most courthouses don’t have the technology.” However, Webbert said, “The technology really connected with the jury. It’s so much more powerful to let the jury see the evidence. It may become a new requirement in trials.”