This story was updated at 9:19 a.m. to correct the first name of the president/executive officer of Families Matter Inc.


AUGUSTA — A state human rights panel on Monday unanimously sided with a woman who said a Hallowell-based business discriminated against her because of race, color, national origin and ancestry.

Lisa Pierce, who lives in the Hinckley area of Fairfield, worked for Families Matter Inc. from November 2008 through March 2011. She was assistant director at a new Skowhegan office when she was fired.

Families Matter provides community support services for special needs young adults in Augusta, Farmington, Skowhegan, South China and Waterville.

A report by Michele Dion, an investigator with the Maine Human Rights Commission, says Pierce is Hispanic, Native American and is from Puerto Rico.

As part of the investigation, Dion interviewed two witnesses, including a manager fired for non-performance, who said that president/executive director Ed McNaughton referred to Pierce as “that colored girl.”

Dion said the witnesses were credible and when she asked McNaughton about that reference, he appeared calm and not insulted. McNaughton’s response, according to the report, was, “I do not recall having made this comment.”

Pierce also claimed she was treated differently than other assistant directors and not informed about management decisions at the same time they were.

In the same 4-0 vote in which the panel found reasonable grounds to believe that unlawful discrimination occurred, commissioners also rejected a claim by Pierce that she was subjected to whistleblower retaliation when she was fired.

Families Matter maintained Pierce was dismissed “for inappropriately disciplining a client by unilaterally taking away recreational privileges as a form of discipline,” according to Dion’s report.

The organization’s handbook says its role is to provide services, not withhold them.

Maine Human Rights Commission findings are not law, but may become grounds for lawsuits. When the commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that discrimination occurred, the case moves to a conciliation phase.

Attorney Ronald Bourget denied that Families Matter Inc. discriminates against people because of race, color or national origin. He argued Monday that Pierce herself did not hear any remark, and that the source for it was a third party.

“The first person making the statement that he heard an inappropriate statement made is someone who is a former employee,” Bourget said.

Bourget said the alleged statement came on the night of an employee recognition meeting six months after Pierce was hired.

Commission Chairman Paul Vestal asked Bourget why there was nothing in Pierce’s personnel file about her discharge for “inexcusable conduct.”

“There are small businesses that don’t always cross the ‘t’ or dot the ‘i,'” Bourget said.

“I was troubled by this issue in the personnel file,” Dion told commissioners. “If it was inexcusable conduct, it is odd that there was not some kind of documentation.”

Attorney Lisa J. Butler, representing Pierce, urged the commission to support the investigator’s recommended finding that Pierce was a victim of discrimination in employment.

Butler also pointed out that another witness said McNaughton’s comment about having Martin Luther King Day as a holiday for workers would happen “over my dead body.”

Butler said after the hearing that Pierce is working and has become a behavioral support professional.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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