Thursday, April 17, 2014
AUGUSTA — A volunteer driver for a community aid agency, a bus passenger, and a dental office worker all won support today for their claims that they were subjected to illegal discrimination.
The recommended findings in the three separate cases came without discussion or oral arguments at the meeting of the Maine Human Rights Commission.
Now the commission staff will assist with conciliation efforts to settle the complaints. Commission findings are not law, but may become grounds for lawsuits.
Even though her case was on the consent agenda, Agnes Farnsworth of Leeds came to watch the vote to make sure the commissioners would find reasonable grounds to believe she was subject to unlawful discrimination.
She said she was happy with the support she found.
Farnsworth, a volunteer driver for 17 years with the Waterville-based Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, sought to have that agency contact her by text rather than call her on the phone because of her hearing disability.
"They texted me for two months and then it stopped," Farnsworth said after the hearing.
"Rather than simply accommodate her, (the agency) terminated her employment and later denied she was an employee with any rights," said attorney Kristin Aiello of the Disability Rights Center, who represented Farnsworth in the case.
Farnsworth is now driving for the Lewiston-based Community Concepts agency.
Kennebec Valley Community Action Program responded to Farnsworth's claims by saying she was a volunteer rather than an employee, that she received an accommodation and was terminated for performance issues, according to a report by a commission investigator.
Aiello said there is no requirement for an individual to receive wages to be considered an employee.
In a separate case, the commission found reasonable grounds to believe Amy Greenwald was subject to unlawful discrimination during her June 2012 ride on Dallas-based Greyhound Lines, Inc., from North Carolina to Waterville, where she lives.
According to the complaint, the bus company failed to assist her with boarding, exiting, priority seating and luggage transfers. Greenwald said she requested assistance because of her physical disabilities.
The bus company responded by saying Greenwald did not request assistance with boarding or exiting the bus or with her carry-on bags, according to an investigator's report.
"Greyhound repeatedly refused to accommodate her and even subjected her to harassment," said Aiello, who also represented Greenwald though the Disability Rights Center.
In the third case, the commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Wesley Danforth of Winthrop was subject to unlawful retaliation in employment — termination — for engaging in protected, whistleblower activity at Kennebec Valley Dental Center of Augusta.
Danforth worked as a dental hygienist for the nonprofit dental center from September 2009 to July 2011, and had made complaints to a dental oversight board about a particular dentist, according to a report by commission investigator Robert Beauchesne.
The dental office said Danforth was fired "due to unsatisfactory patient care and attitude," Beauchesne's report says.
Beauchesne noted that "the three top stated reasons for (Danforth's) termination" occurred after the executive director's May 16 decision to fire him.
Betty Adams — 621-5631