BAR HARBOR — The issuance last week of a “right to sue” letter by the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) clears the way for former police chief Nate Young’s discrimination complaint against the town of Bar Harbor to proceed in federal court.
In July, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivision granted a stay on the federal court proceedings until the MHRC either could consider Young’s discrimination complaint or issue the right to sue letter. Anyone who files a complaint with the MHRC and does not have the commission consider the complaint within 180 days can demand a right to sue letter.
That letter was issued on Nov. 20 in response to a Nov. 18 request from Young’s attorney, Gregg Frame.
The town’s attorney, Mark Franco of Thompson & Bowie LLP in Portland, said Tuesday that he expects the next step is for Young’s attorney to file an amended complaint in federal district court using the MHRC complaint and right to sue letter to bolster Young’s discrimination claim.
Franco said he could not comment on the MHRC complaint. As part of the process, both the complainant and defendant sign a non-disclosure agreement, he said.
A copy of the MHRC complaint obtained by the Islander has been redacted to delete references to the exact nature of Young’s disability. Young has publically stated that last year he entered an alcohol treatment program. Documents filed in conjunction with the federal case claim that the town failed to provide Young with “reasonable accommodation” for his disability.
Both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Maine’s Human Rights Act recognize alcoholism as a disability. This alone is not enough for an employee to be lawfully dismissed. The employer must prove that the disability – alcoholism – is having a negative effect on the employee’s job performance. Examples of grounds for lawful dismissal include chronic lateness and a high number of unexpected absences.
The MHRC complaint states that Young entered an in-patient treatment program on Oct. 21, 2013 while already under disciplinary suspension for an incident the previous month. Young claims he was entitled to do so without jeopardizing his employment status as allowed by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Following completion of the treatment program, Young requested – and was denied – reinstatement, the complaint alleges. The document goes on to state that Young was fired as police chief in February 2014, “ostensibly because” the chief “had been [redacted] while off duty.”
The complaint concludes with a statement that Young’s firing is “related to his request for a covered leave to treat [redacted], his request to return to work after relapse from the above [redacted], and retaliation based on the above.”
Attorneys were scheduled Wednesday for a telephone conference with the federal court to assess the status of the case.
“The case is moving at a snail’s pace,” Franco said. He expects the court to set deadlines to get the process moving forward.
Young’s dismissal as police chief stems from an investigation into an incident in September 2013 where two Bar Harbor police officers on a well-being check found Young in his truck at night in the lot of the closed Town Hill Store. An investigator hired by the town concluded Young was intoxicated at the time and acted inappropriately with his officers.
After being fired in February by then-Town Manager Dana Reed, Young appealed to the town council, which upheld the town manager’s decision. Young then filed a lawsuit in state court. In response, Franco filed a motion to transfer the matter to federal court.