News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Baffling Decision by Maine Human Rights Commission

by Sharon Wachsler

Last week, the Kennebec Journal published the article, "Maine panel: No grounds for OOB official's claim of discrimination." Bill Robertson, former public works director of Old Orchard Beach, file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission
alleging that he was discriminated against because of his hearing disability, and that then-Town Manager Mark Pearson retaliated against him by stripping him of sick leave benefits and not renewing his contract....
Granted, the whole situation with firings and rehirings and claims and allegations on all sides sounds confusing to untangle, as the Journal puts it:
Bill Robertson was fired and then re-hired last year during a tumultuous period that included the firing of the town manager and the recall of nearly the entire Town Council. 
However, the Human Rights Commission does not seem to be questioning whether audism and ableism were at play, just whether it was bad enough to be the cause of Robertson's firing:
[Robertson] said the discrimination and retaliation included Pearson making insensitive and degrading comments about his hearing, putting him on administrative leave, notifying him that his contract would not be renewed and stripping him of sick leave benefits. 
Robertson said Pearson repeatedly made comments about Robertson’s hearing disability in front of other town employees. 
The Human Rights Commission found that none of Pearson’s conduct was threatening toward Robertson and that the disability harassment claim was unfounded. 
“It may be that (the) town manager’s comments embarrassed (the) complainant because he drew attention to (Robertson’s) disability in front of others,” said an investigator’s report. “Objectively, however, the town manager’s comments did not rise above the level of occasional offensive utterances.” 
How many "offensive utterances" that "embarrass" an employee when his employer "draws attention to [the] disability in front of others" does the Maine Human Rights Commission think is an acceptable amount, I wonder. Read more about this wonky situation in the complete article.

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