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Panel Backs Sex Bias Complaint

Nov 4, 2004 | Kennebec Journal

The Maine Human Rights Commission has found reasonable grounds that a female worker at Huhtamaki Packaging Worldwide was subjected to sexual harassment by another female worker last year and then was fired when she filed a complaint.

Debra Beaulieu of Vassalboro told a commission investigator that the unnamed female worker fondled her breasts and buttocks between April 10 and May 7, 2003. She said she let the harassment go the first two times it allegedly happened, but after the third time, with encouragement from her coworkers, she reported the incidents to management.

Beaulieu was fired for "disrupting the workplace" three days later, according to the commission report.

Company officials told investigator Robert D. Beauchesne that the woman being accused of sexual harassment is of Asian/Pacific Island decent and has a difficult time communicating in English. They said the incidents were simply friendly greetings and not sexual in nature.

Beaulieu's statements to the commission investigator painted a different picture.

Beaulieu said advances happened two weeks after she began, again May 3 of that year, this time on the assembly line when the woman grabbed her buttocks. The third and final incident allegedly occurred the following day when the woman rubbed her hands on the sides of her breasts, she reported.

Company officials insisted Beaulieu, who was hired as a summer replacement for vacationing workers, "seemed like a handful," exhibiting "repeated inappropriate behavior" from the first day of her orientation.

"She was loud, abrasive, made inappropriate and unsolicited comments and appeared to go out of her way to draw attention to herself," company officials told the investigator, according to commission documents.

Company officials also said Beaulieu had made remarks about other female workers, calling them rude names and insulting them. The director of human resources at Huhtamaki then decided to terminate Beaulieu's employment based on that behavior.

Commissioners found that Huhtamaki did little to investigate the charges leveled by Beaulieu and that her firing was retaliation for filing a sexual harassment complaint and that there were reasonable grounds to believe the sexual contact had happened in the first place.

The commission now will determine what remedies will be ordered against Huhtamaki. They could include job reinstatement, monetary damages or a written warning.


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