AUGUSTA — Former Franklin County jail guard Robert Shufelt lost his argument Monday that he was a victim of disability discrimination when he was fired in March 2012 following an investigation into a reported assault on an inmate.

The Maine Human Rights Commission voted 3-1 Monday to uphold its investigator’s finding of no reasonable grounds that discrimination occurred. Commissioner A. Mavourneen Thompson voted against the finding.

Shufelt’s wife, Tammy Dwinal-Shufelt, spoke to the commission on his behalf at Monday’s hearing, with Robert Shufelt standing next to her and gazing much of the time at the floor. She said his anxiety prevented him from presenting the information himself.

After the vote, Dwinal-Shufelt said the couple planned to talk to an attorney about their options.

Commission findings are not law, but may become grounds for lawsuits.

Shufelt, 49, of Jay, worked as a corrections officer for 23 years, and he said after the hearing that he spent an additional two years there on a part-time/full-time status. Dwinal-Shufelt briefly addressed the Feb. 11, 2012, altercation with an inmate.

“The inmate kept touching paperwork,” she said, against instructions from her husband. “He reached over to grab the inmate to put him in his cell.”

She said her husband took medication for a mental disability and had a difficult time at work.

“He struggled with anxiety and missed a fair amount of time at work,” she said.

She also said Shufelt took his psychiatrist’s advice to move to the day shift, which was supposed to be less stressful, even though it meant a wage reduction.

“All the years he’s been there, he’s probably had the best control of the inmates,” Dwinal-Shufelt said. “It’s not like he is a man who has anger issues.”

She said he was approved in February for disability retirement benefits.

Thompson asked Shufelt whether he had asked to transfer to an office job with the county. “No, I did not,” he responded.

The county, through its attorney, Peter Marchesi, argued it was unaware Shufelt suffered from a mental disability and had documented a number of disciplinary issues involving him over the years.

“There was no actual or perceived disability,” Marchesi told commissioners on Monday. “There were several disciplinary write-ups because the employee appeared to be in some alcohol- or drug-induced stupor.”

He said the county “was not aware that there was any sort of physical or psychological disability.”

The county maintained Shufelt was terminated as a result of the inmate assault incident and past performance issues.

“This was excessive force on an inmate, ” Marchesi said. “They had inmates they had to protect. When inmates get beat up, they sue the county.”

He said Shufelt’s performance issues included “serious lapses in security” and inaccurate recording of inmate whereabouts in logs.

Marchesi said jail administrators retrained Shufelt and gave him new copies of policies.

“They did everything they could to counsel this employee and work with this employee,” he said.

Thompson questioned Marchesi, saying, “The complainant says these actions are result of disability; you say the county dealt with it as discipline issue.”

Marchesi told her, “The folks at Franklin County hadn’t a clue” about Shufelt’s disability.

The commission investigator, Angela Tizon, told commissioners there was no evidence that disability discrimination led to Shufelt’s firing.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.