AUGUSTA — A former Denny’s employee has won support from the Maine Human Rights Commission for her claim that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment at the workplace.

However, the same panel rejected Ann Clarke’s claim that her firing was a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Both votes on Monday were 5-0, and followed the recommendation of commission investigator Angela Tizon.

A reasonable grounds finding by the commission starts a conciliation process. If the dispute is not resolved, the finding can become grounds for a lawsuit.

Clarke worked at the Denny’s restaurant in Augusta, operated by Realty Resources Hospitality, also in Augusta, from March 2009 until her firing on Jan. 28, 2011.

She said the company failed to address her complaint that a male coworker sexually harassed her, according to Tizon’s report. The company maintained Clarke did not report sexual harassment to management and that its first notification of a problem came after Clarke filed her complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission and when another employee reported harassment in June 2011.

A company investigation concluded “that male coworker had engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct toward female employees, and that general manager failed to control” that behavior resulting in the firing of both men, Tizon reported.

The company told the commission Clarke was terminated for “grossly unacceptable behavior” following an altercation with a co-worker in view of customers, not in retaliation for making a series of complaints.

Neither Andrew T. Mason, the attorney who represented Clarke, nor Robert Hoy, the attorney who represented Realty Resources Hospitality/Denny’s, was available for comment Tuesday.

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