Jessie Lacey poses in her office Friday at Dirigo Design and Development. In a post Thursday on the website Medium, Lacey alleged that her former boss Kevin Thomas sexually harassed her when she worked as Maine Media Collective’s art director. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

A former employee has leveled accusations of sexual harassment against Kevin Thomas, the previous publisher of Maine Media Collective, which includes Maine Magazine, Maine Home + Design and other glossy publications.

Kevin Thomas, former publisher of Old Port Magazine and Maine Magazine, in 2015. Margaret Logan photo

Jessie Lacey made the allegations in an emotional 1,700-word post on the website Medium on Thursday, saying the current cultural momentum against sexual harassment spurred her to write about a dinner she had with Thomas and another employee in March 2010.

Lacey said she started writing about the experience two years ago but was scared to go public.

Would people believe her? Would her reputation suffer? Had the whole thing somehow been her fault?

Then the #MeToo movement swept the country, emboldening victims of sexual harassment to come forward, many after years of silence. Lacey said reports at the national level about powerful figures like Harvey Weinstein and more recently at the local level, with well-known business consultant Jess Knox and concert promoter Alex Gray, pushed her to come forward.

Lacey said her life has been altered by the aftermath of the events that she alleges occurred that night eight years ago. Asked why she didn’t report the incident at the time, she said she was “naive,” thinking that she would have to report the behavior to the company, which Thomas owned.

Lacey wrote that the trouble began one evening when she went out for dinner and drinks in Portland with Thomas and Susan Grisanti, his business partner and former editor in chief of the magazines. While Grisanti was in the bathroom, Lacey said, Thomas confided to her that he was in love with Grisanti.

Later, after Grisanti left them for the evening, Lacey said Thomas “made his moves on me” – putting his hand on her thighs and forcibly kissing her.

“I was shocked and scared that my boss, the owner of the company, was making unwanted advances and I didn’t know what to do,” Lacey wrote.

She said Thomas asked to see her apartment, which was near the bar. Lacey said no, but agreed to let him walk her out. She said he pushed her against a wall and forcefully kissed her again. Lacey said she told him her fiancé was waiting for her, and that she “actually had to duck down under his arm to escape his clutches.”

Thomas is no longer the publisher of Maine Media, but his name and photo remain on the staff page of the magazines, with no title. He remains the owner of Maine Media Collective.

He issued a statement through the company Friday night, disputing the accuracy of Lacey’s post.

“Once allegations like these are made, and someone’s reputation is disparaged, it’s extremely difficult to defend against them, without sounding like a cliché,” Thomas said in the emailed statement. “But I will say that her story, as told on the blog, is not true.

“The truth is, eight years ago, I asked Jessie’s permission to kiss her, twice. And twice, she said yes. Was it wrong? Of course. I was her employer, she was my employee. And we were friends.”

Grisanti, who left the company in 2016 after 10 years, did not respond to a message seeking comment Friday.

Andrea King, the new publisher and CEO, posted an open letter Thursday both on the Maine Media website and its Facebook page.

“When I became CEO in November 2017, I focused my attention on our values and vision. This has included a realignment of our culture, policies, and practices and a strengthening of our brand,” she wrote. “I am steadfastly committed to creating a culture that is safe, respectful, and welcoming and that provides an equal opportunity workplace free from discrimination or harassment in any form.

“I am proud to say that during this period, we have implemented new policies that cover the full spectrum of what can empower our employees to do their best work in a supportive environment.”

King, in an interview Friday, said the open letter is something she would have sent eventually to explain the company’s transition but that Lacey’s post moved up that timeline. King said Thomas does not have an official title and is “transitioning away from the company.”

After the alleged incident, Lacey said, Thomas ignored her at work for two weeks and finally said to her “something along the lines of that he was drunk and let’s put this event in the past, and it’s ‘water under the bridge, right?’ ”

Lacey just wanted to put the incident behind her so she agreed.

“What followed was an agonizing eight months of systematic bullying, relentless gas lighting, and calculated mental harassment the likes of which I had never before, or since, experienced,” Lacey wrote.

She said she started having panic attacks and then was told to move to a different job at the company, reducing her hours to part time. Eventually, she said, she was forced to resign.

She found another job two weeks later but said it took five years to build her confidence back up.

Lacey said she debated for a long time about whether to go public with her story. She said she started writing the Medium post two years ago but couldn’t bring herself to publish it until now.

She said that when Maine Media Collective announced last fall that it was creating Maine Moxie, billed as a women’s empowerment magazine, she knew she couldn’t stay silent much longer.

“They had the gall to put out a women’s magazine when they have been hiding so many stories of sexual harassment and bullying and disempowerment,” Lacey said. “That was the last straw.”

Thomas offered a different account of events, saying they talked about the encounter the day after the dinner.

“We did both agree the next day that we should put it behind us and move on,” his statement said. “I can’t talk about the circumstances of Jessie’s employment or her departure because it is a personnel issue. That also makes it difficult to defend against her allegations.”

Lacey’s allegations were part of a lengthy article in the new issue of The Bollard, a free publication in Portland. The article contains allegations of sexual harassment against Thomas from several anonymous sources, but Lacey is the only named accuser.

Her post has been shared on social media and has earned support from others.

“If you think #METOO is an issue that only exists in Hollywood, you’re blind,” wrote Emily Straubel, a Portland-based writer. “Jessie Lacey is risking her personal and professional reputation by opening up about this, and there are many other women who share this story. Don’t stay silent!”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

CLARIFICATION: This story was updated at 5 p.m. Monday April 30, 2018 to indicate that Thomas remains the owner of Maine Media Collective.

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