Women and Justice: Court: Maine Supreme Court

Domestic Case Law

Watt v. UniFirst Corp. Maine Supreme Court (2009)

Sexual harassment

After commencing her employment, plaintiff agreed to prepare lunches for a new co-worker in exchange for $25 a week. Plaintiff later stopped providing lunches to the co-worker who in return, became hostile towards her, commencing a pattern of sexual harassment, including lewd comments, uninvited sexual advances, and interference with her ability to work. In keeping with company policy, plaintiff addressed complaints to her supervisor. Although the supervisor met with the co-worker and issued warnings, the harassment continued. Eventually the general manager suspended the co-worker and changed his duties so he would not be working near the plaintiff. When he returned, however, the co-worker continued to harass plaintiff. Eventually, there was an incident where the two got into a physical altercation, for which both were suspended. The plaintiff sued the defendant for failing to remedy the situation and for a hostile work environment. The court found that an employer may be liable for the sexual harassment of an employee by a co-worker under a hostile environment claim if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate steps to correct it. The court noted that in determining whether a work environment is hostile, a court should consider the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, its severity, if it is physically threatening or humiliating as opposed to a mere offensive utterance, and if it reasonably interferes with the plaintiff’s work. The court then concluded that a jury could conclude that the defendant’s response to the harassment was neither immediate nor appropriate. Specifically, the three-day suspension and warnings were insufficient given the pattern of harassment. Thus, the court vacated the trial court’s issuance of summary judgment to the defendant and remanded the case.

Kopenga v. Davric Maine Corp. Maine Supreme Court (1999)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff applied for a job to work at the defendant’s race track as a security officer. The defendant’s director of security informed the plaintiff that he normally did not hire women and instead employed her in the dispatch hour to answer telephones and complete paper work. The plaintiff had a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and experience in security work. The plaintiff subsequently requested to work the late night security shift at the stable gate to work additional hours. Her request was denied as the director did not hire women for this position. When the general manager learned of the incident, he informed the director that he violated company policy and directed him to change his discriminatory practices. Ultimately, the plaintiff left the company due to disputes over her work assignments and she filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission and sued the defendant. The trial court determined that but for the director’s gender discrimination, the plaintiff could have worked an additional sixteen hours each week for thirty-three weeks and that she would have earned overtime. The Supreme Court of Maine held that the plaintiff was entitled to back pay for these lost wages under 5 M.R.S.A. § 4613.

Nadeau v. Rainbow Rugs Maine Supreme Court (1996)

Sexual harassment

The plaintiff worked as an administrative assistant for the defendant, whose office was located at the home of the company’s president. The plaintiff worked in the same room as the president and he supervised the plaintiff’s work. The president asked her uncomfortable personal questions about her marriage and financially distressed situation, stating that she had options available to make money, but that he needed to speak to her in private about them. He followed this by offering to give the plaintiff money in exchange for sex. The plaintiff immediately rejected the proposal and the president told her that her position was not jeopardized but left the offer open in case the plaintiff changed her mind. The plaintiff reported the incident that day to a supervisor of the warehouse. However the president was her only supervisor so she did not report the incident to anyone else. The defendant had no policies for sexual harassment or complaint procedures. The plaintiff subsequently resigned due to the president’s comments and filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission suing the defendant for the harassment by her supervisor under 5 M.R.S.A. § 4572 for a hostile work environment. The court found that under the Maine Human Rights Act, “employers are liable for hostile environment harassment by supervisors and co-workers if an official representing the institution knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known, of the harassment’s occurrence, unless that official can show that he or she took appropriate steps to halt it.” Here, the court found that because the president was the plaintiff’s only supervisor, she had no one else to consult, and because the defendant had no harassment policy in place, she had no avenues of relief. Any higher officials than the president were located in Belgium. Further, the president was an official representing the defendant and obviously knew of the occurrence. He could have taken steps to stop the harassment by rescinding his offer but he left it open in case the plaintiff changed her mind. Thus, the defendant could be liable for the president’s harassment.

Dyer v. Dyer Maine Supreme Court (2010)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Here, the plaintiff moved to extend a protective order against the defendant, her ex-husband. The trial court granted the extension and the defendant appealed. In this case, while the parties were married, the defendant assaulted the plaintiff in their garage and attempted to suffocate her while she was knocked to the ground and she almost lost consciousness. The defendant only stopped when the parties’ daughter entered the garage and the plaintiff told her to call 911. The defendant was arrested and served six months in jail. The plaintiff also had obtained a protective order that prohibited the defendant from having direct or indirect contact with the plaintiff and their daughter for two years. The defendant violated this order by sending his daughter a Christmas card and by entering the plaintiff’s home. As the order was going to expire, the plaintiff moved to extend it. The court extended the order because the assault against her had been “extraordinarily brutal and unprovoked.” The court found that the plaintiff had a well-founded fear of vehicles that were similar to that of the defendant, especially because the defendant got a job in the town where the plaintiff worked. The defendant appealed the trial court’s finding. The court affirmed the trial court’s extension, finding there were no factual findings of clear error made by the trial court. Thus, a protective order does not have to have a time limit where a party’s fear is justified.

Campbell v. Martin Maine Supreme Court (2002)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Here, the plaintiff had obtained a protective order against the defendant in Kentucky because she feared that the defendant would abuse her and the parties’ daughter. Subsequently, the defendant threatened to kill the plaintiff, and the plaintiff fled to Maine, where she filed for a protective order. The district court granted a temporary protective order. Subsequently, the plaintiff filed for custody of the parties’ daughter. The district court found that it could not grant the plaintiff custody as Maine was not the daughter’s home state. On appeal, the court noted that under 19-A M.R.S.A. §§ 1731-1783, where Maine is not the child’s home state, a Maine court does not have jurisdiction unless the child’s home state declines to exercise jurisdiction. However, where a parent and child flee their home state due threats of abuse, Maine may exercise jurisdiction over the child’s interests under § 1748. The court affirmed the district court’s denial of custody though. The court found that the court properly exercised jurisdiction to issue a protective order which would not expire until a custody hearing in Kentucky. Because the child’s interests would be protected until the matter was adjudicated, there was no need to act further to protect the child by issuing a more permanent order.