Media Archive

Rights panel backs LaGrange cook

Article from Bangor Daily News, Tuesday, June 29, 2004

By Tom Groening
of the NEWS Staff

AUGUSTA - The Maine Human Rights Commission agreed Monday with a Brownville woman who claimed she was illegally fired from her job as a cook at a LaGrange restaurant.

Paula Vigue was hired last August at the Silent Cove restaurant but was terminated a month later after an investigator showed up at the restaurant, inquiring about her for a workers' compensation claim from a previous job.

She said the owner of the restaurant, Warren Brasslet, told her, "You are a good worker, Paula, but I don't need this -," referring to the investigation. Brasslet countered that Vigue had used foul language in earshot of customers, discounted lobster for family members, and did not get along with co-workers.

Vigue's claim was bolstered by the lack of documentation for Brasslet's claim that she had been warned before the firing.

Attorney Anne-Marie Storey, representing Brasslet and the restaurant, told the commission the business was a small, family-run operation and careful records were not kept. Brasslet knew about the previous workers' compensation claim when he hired her, she said.

"There were significant problems with her in other areas," such as changing a recipe and using the "F" word repeatedly in the small combination store-restaurant, Storey said.

"This is all in the space of one month of employment," she said.

Attorney Kevin Noonan, representing Vigue, told the commission that Brasslet had no problems with Vigue until the investigator showed up. The investigator came to the restaurant twice and photographed Vigue, he said, creating a disturbance.

In response to a question from commission chairwoman Kim Millick, Noonan said Vigue acknowledged the mistakes that Brasslet said she had made at work and never repeated them.

Noonan said Vigue was fired the day the investigator showed up.

Human Rights Commission investigator Susan Clark said she felt Brasslet's version was not credible because he could not recall any of the conversation he had with Vigue when he fired her.

With the commission's vote that there are reasonable grounds to Vigue's claim, the dispute between Vigue and Brasslet will proceed to a conciliation hearing. If that fails, Vigue can take her claim to Superior Court.

Also on Monday, the commission did not find reasonable grounds in a claim brought by Martin Neptune of Old Town on behalf of stepson Gabe Neptune against the Orono School Department, but the issue generated discussion among commission members.

Gabe Neptune, an American Indian, allegedly was accused by his junior varsity basketball coach of smoking marijuana. The coach asked the student athlete if he had been "smoking the peace pipe," Neptune said. The coach also referred to players as "chief."

Gabe and his family found the terms offensive.

Many Penobscot Nation parents chose to send their children to Orono High School, Neptune said, thinking faculty and staff working in a university town would be less prone to racism. Instead, he said, Indian children often drop out because of racist remarks.

The "institutionalized racism," Neptune said, "drives our children out of school."

Attorney Bruce Smith, representing the school, and Superintendent Tom Perry disputed this claim. The coach called all players "chief," they said, and the "peace pipe" reference was one he picked up in an urban area where marijuana use was referred to in this way.

The coach stopped both practices when its inappropriateness was pointed out, they said.

Gabe's mother had a public conflict with the coach, exacerbating the relationship with the boy, but commission members concluded it was not related to race.

Clark, the commission investigator, agreed that the coach's comments were insensitive, but that they did not rise to the level of being illegal under the Maine Human Rights Act. Commission members agreed in a 4-1 vote.

The commission found no reasonable grounds in the following cases:

Kathleen Heckel of Islesboro v. Audubon Expedition Institute of Belfast.

Maureen Littlefield of Searsmont v. MBNA of Belfast.

Ronald Harding of Waterville v. Cianbro of Pittsfield.

Donna Doucette and David Marshall of Nova Scotia v. Rite Aid of Machias.

Rowena Staples of Skowhegan v. Woodlawn Rehab and Nursing of Skowhegan.

Sandra Gates of Hermon v. Allies Inc. of Bangor.

Crystal McKeever of Rockport v. Camden National Corp. in Belfast.

Donald DeMerchant of Caribou v. Sysco Food Services of Portland.

Clare Jellison of Bangor v. School Union 90 of Milford.

Wallace Winchell of Bangor v. Home Depot of Bangor.

Rose Reynolds of Winterport v. Ross Manor Associates of Portland.

Paula Wing of Milford v. Trans-Tech Industries of Brewer.

Manuel Olivas of Glenburn v. KidsPeace National Centers, Ellsworth.

David Achorn of Rockland v. Courier Publications of Rockland.

Angela Monson of Newport v. City of Bangor.

Susan Russell of Unity v. SAD 3 of Unity.

Eugene and Denise Savoy of Bangor v. Bangor Housing Authority.

James Clark of Ashland v. Nexfor Fraser Paper of Ashland.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.