The Maine Human Rights Commission found this week that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that Old Orchard Beach’s public works director faced discrimination while on the job.
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. He filed a complaint with the 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.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Robertson’s attorney, Neal Weinstein, of the commission’s finding. “The conduct of the former town manager was terrible. It was humiliating and degrading to our client, but (the commission) didn’t think the retaliation by terminating or back-dating his sick leave was based solely upon his hearing loss.”
Robertson was notified in February 2013 that Pearson would not renew his contract. At the time, Pearson said Robertson was unprofessional, failed to complete certain parts of his job and made public expressions of animosity toward Pearson.
Pearson also said that Robertson threatened to shoot him, an accusation Robertson has denied repeatedly.
The Town Council voted to rescind Robertson’s dismissal and reinstated him to the job. The council later voted to fire Pearson, who sued the town alleging he was wrongfully terminated. That case is still pending in York County Superior Court. The Town Council is scheduled to discuss it in an executive session Tuesday.
In his complaint, Robertson claimed that the town discriminated against him because of his hearing disability and retaliated against him for complaining about it to the human resources department.
He 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.”
The commission also found no grounds for Robertson’s claim that he was retaliated against for reporting Pearson’s behavior.
In a statement of finding issued Wednesday, the commission’s executive director, Amy Sneirson, said Roberson could pursue the matter in court.
Weinstein said he received the statement of finding Friday morning and had not yet spoken to his client about whether they would pursue the issue in court.
Last year, the Human Rights Commission found that former public works employee Kelly Roy was retaliated and discriminated against after she reported her concerns about issues in the finance department. She filed a lawsuit against the town in March that is still pending in York County Superior Court.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: