AUGUSTA — A Windsor woman who works for the Office of State Fire Marshal has filed a lawsuit claiming she was sexually harassed by a co-worker who also has been accused of threatening to kill two other co-workers, that she has missed time from work because she feared for her safety, and that supervisors knew about and tolerated the alleged conduct and retaliated after she filed a complaint.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Arthur Greif on behalf of Dorothy Bonsant, an employee of the fire marshal’s office since 2008, claims she was sexually harassed by Sgt. Scott Richardson, whom the lawsuit describes as an “indirect supervisor” of her.

It alleges Bonsant was subjected to a “pervasive and/or severe pattern of sexual harassment by Richardson which continued through early October of 2017” with allegations in the lawsuit including: Richardson showing untoward interest in Bonsant, sending her inappropriate emails, repeatedly referring to her looks, and emailing her that he thought of her day and night; establishing himself, in late 2015, in a cubicle immediately next to her cubicle that should have been occupied by another employee; seeking hugs from Bonsant, which she resisted; in 2017 incident, grabbing her by the hips and squeezing them forcefully; and inviting her to join him at his camper at the Fryeburg Fair.

The lawsuit states that shortly after Bonsant filed a formal complaint with the human resources office at the fire marshal’s office, she was informed Richardson had, on Oct. 16, 2016, allegedly threatened to kill two co-workers, Ken MacMaster and Joel Davis, in relation to an incident in which Richardson allegedly made “age discriminatory” comments in recommending against hiring a prospective employee.

Greif said Bonsant has a copy of an email or text message in which Richardson threatened to kill the two co-workers.

Marc Malon, spokesman for the state Office of the Attorney General, the office that would respond to lawsuits filed against the state, said Friday the office does not have any comment on the matter.

The state has not filed a response yet to the complaint, which was filed March 21 in superior court in Augusta.

The lawsuit states that when she learned about those threats after she had made her complaint about Richardson’s conduct, Bonsant became sleepless and began to fear for her life. And as a result of the harassment and her fears for her safety, Bonsant missed 184.5 hours of work for which she was obliged to take sick, compensatory and vacation time that she otherwise would not have used.

It states the state engaged in illegal sexual discrimination by failing to protect Bonsant at the workplace and failing to take any meaningful action to discipline Richardson, and that she has suffered both an “economic and human loss” because of that discrimination.

Greif said Bonsant filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, but the commission, Grief said, was so overwhelmed with complaints it did not open an investigation into her allegations for 180 days. Commission rules allow for people making a complaint, if their cases are not taken up within 180 days, to file a civil action directly in superior court, with a “right to sue” letter from the commission, which Greif said Bonsant now has.

The lawsuit further claims retaliation by the state after Bonsant’s complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission, because she was informed, Oct. 11, 2017, for the first time, she could not work from home, even when she felt it necessary for her own safety. She had her job duties restricted so she is no longer allowed to assist in field investigations, she has been removed from any hiring committees, she has been discouraged from attending staff meetings at which Richardson also would be in attendance, and she has been ostracized by management at the office and was told management intends to stand behind Richardson, according to the lawsuit.

The suit seeks damages, including compensatory damages, back pay, a return to workplace rules from which she once benefitted, and attorney fees and costs.

The lawsuit claims the previous public safety commissioner, John Morris, after Bonsant’s complaint was filed, said to other management employees that he was “100 percent behind Scott.” Morris was the state’s commissioner of public safety during former Gov. Paul LePage’s two terms in office. Gov. Janet Mills replaced Morris with former Portland police Chief Michael Sauschuck after she took office this year.

“We heard the powers that be in the office of public safety are going to be 100 percent behind Mr. Richardson, and that’s really unfortunate,” Greif said. “This is not acceptable workplace behavior, and it is not acceptable management is aware this fellow has a problem and wants to look the other way.”

Greif said both Bonsant and Richardson still work for the Office of State Fire Marshal.

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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