WATERVILLE — A Winslow man has sued Pan Am Railways in federal court, claiming the company illegally discriminated against him when he was fired after requesting a three-week medical leave extension to recover from cancer treatment.

In a 19-page complaint filed against Pan Am and its subsidiary Springfield Terminal Railway Co. on Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, Eric Thomas said he was fired in September 2013 from his job as an assistant manager at Pan Am’s rail depot in Waterville on the same day when he requested a doctor-advised extension to his medical leave to recover from chemoradiation treatment of tonsillar cancer. Thomas also asked to work eight-hour shifts instead of his regular 12-hour shifts for the two weeks after he returned.

According to the suit, Pan Am said having a vacancy for another three weeks would be a “hardship,” but the assistant manager’s position remained open for another six weeks after Thomas was fired.

The company would not reinstate Thomas, even when he was given early clearance to return to work full time less than three weeks after he was terminated, the suit says.

Through his privileges as a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers, Thomas was reinstated at the rail yard as a machinist in October 2013, but did not reclaim his old position, despite the fact he asked several times to be placed in the vacant position. He left the company in February 2014.

An investigator from the Maine Human Rights Commission in June found that there were reasonable grounds to believe the company subjected Thomas to unlawful disability discrimination and unlawful retaliation for exercising his rights.

Pan Am and Springfield “acted with reckless disregard for Mr. Thomas’s rights,” protected under the Maine Human Rights Act, the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities act, the suit says. Thomas’ cancer is defined as a disability under the Maine Human Rights Act, according to the suit.

“I think it is pretty clear they violated the law,” said Allison Gray, a human rights attorney from Johnson Webbert and Young in Augusta, which represents Thomas.

Cynthia Scarano, a Pan Am vice president, could not be reached for comment at the company’s Billerica, Massachusetts, main office Thursday.

According to the suit, Thomas was hired by Pan Am in July 2012, and three months later he was promoted to assistant manager in the engine house of the mechanical department.

In May 2013, he started a four-month medical leave of absence to undergo treatment for tonsillar cancer. The leave was supposed to end on Sept. 16, 2013, but a few days earlier, Thomas contacted his superiors at the company to inform them “his doctor advised he needed additional accommodation in order to transition successfully back to work after months of chemoradiation treatment.” Thomas believed his request for three extra weeks of medical leave was reasonable.

According to his complaint, on the same day he made the request, Sept. 13, the company’s director of personnel management approved his termination, claiming it could not hold his assistant manager position open any longer because it was a hardship.

Thomas says that the next day a manager told him it would not be a problem for him to go back to his old position if it was still open when he returned to work. When his doctor cleared him to return to work three weeks later, he asked for the management position back, but was denied. The company did not fill the open position until early November 2013.

There was “a period of time when he persisted in trying to get his assistant manager position back, but once it proved they were unfairly denying him the position, he left Pan Am,” Gray said Thursday.

Thomas filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July 2014.

In its response to the complaint, Pan Am said the vacant position created an unreasonable hardship, and it had to take a craft employee off the floor to put in the position. The company also said that Thomas never asked for his old job back and never made it “meaningfully certain” when or if he would return to work when he made his request for an extension, according to the commission investigation.

Investigator Robert Beauchesne, however, found that Pan Am had provided “absolutely no evidence” that it made sense to find a new employee for Thomas’ job, that it had to pull employees to cover his work or that his absence was a financial hardship.

Beauchesne also found that Thomas established that he would not have been fired “but for his disability.” The fact that he was fired on the same day he requested extra leave provides “strong evidence” that the request was a “motivating factor” in his termination indicating the company retaliated against Thomas, Beauchesne also found.

On Thursday, Gray said that unlike what happens in many other investigations, Beauchesne did not hold conferences with the parties and only used their initial filings to make his investigative decisions.

That is “a sign of the strength of our case” and Pan Am’s liability, Gray said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire