AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Human Rights Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that unlawful employment discrimination because of race, ancestry and Whistleblower’s Act retaliation occurred to Jonathan Perales of Orrington by Movie Gallery of Bucksport.
In a 4-0 vote on Aug. 11, the commission determined that unlawful discrimination took place when Movie Gallery failed to correct and prevent racist harassment that Perales, 44, had reported to his employer. The commission also found that Perales’ employment was ended because of his Hispanic race.
Movie Gallery denied the allegation of race discrimination and said Perales was fired for inappropriate conduct, according to E. Harry Barker, corporate attorney for Movie Gallery’s home office in Dothan, Ala.
The Gallery said it fired Perales “to avoid an escalation of racial violence against him.”
Perales is of Hispanic and Puerto Rican ancestry. Born in Hawthorne, Calif., he is the first of his family to be born in the United States, according to the commission report. He went to work at Movie Gallery Nov. 22, 2006, as a store manager in training and became store manager in Bucksport on Feb. 19, 2007, until his employment was terminated April 4, 2007, according to commission records.
Perales’ complaint stated that a female co-worker, referred to as RH, racially harassed him from the beginning of his employment as store manager, a job for which the co-worker had also applied, according to the testimony.
Perales testified that he had spoken to his district manager about the conduct of RH toward him and written a five-page letter to the Movie Gallery’s employment relations manager, March 11.
Meanwhile, RH continued to complain, be insubordinate and make race-related remarks to Perales.
RH’s boyfriend also cursed at, threatened and made racist remarks to Perales on Movie Gallery premises, Perales testified.
On March 26, Perales wrote to his district manager, the employee relations manager, the Hate Crimes Division of the Attorney General’s Office and the Bucksport Police Department of RH’s boyfriend’s racist comments and threats of harm to Perales and his family.
The employer’s human resource manager made no responsive contact with Perales and took no corrective action against the co-worker or her boyfriend, until April 4, when Perales was fired for inappropriate conduct.
Perales had testified that RH had threatened him by telling him “she knew where he lived.” After Perales’ letter on March 11 to the employee relations manager, neither the manager nor any other Movie Gallery manager took any steps to respond to the complaint.
RH’s boyfriend’s harassment culminated March 26 when Perales told him he could not check out a movie in his girlfriend’s account. The boyfriend began screaming at Perales and threatened to call the district manager. When Perales asked the boyfriend to leave the store, he screamed an anti-Hispanic obscenity at Perales and left the store, heading for Perales’ vehicle outside to “key his car.”
Perales followed, and saw that the boyfriend had scratched the car with a key, causing about $300 in damage.
The boyfriend had climbed into his pickup truck, but pushed the door open against Perales, who tried to block the door and put his hand through the open window of the truck, pushing the boyfriend on the shoulder.
As Perales returned to the store, the boyfriend yelled that he was “going to call the cops.”
Movie Gallery investigated the altercation and determined that it was inappropriate and against company policy for Perales to have followed the boyfriend out of the store into the parking lot.
Perales and RH were both fired.
The commission subsequently found that Perales was able to demonstrate that the race and ancestry harassment to which he was subjected by a co-worker, who conveyed her racist hatred to her boyfriend and customers, was unlawful, and that Perales’ employment was ended because of his race.
The Maine Human Rights Act prohibits the discharge of an employee because of race and ancestry, and the commission found that Perales’ “whistleblowing” by telephone of the racist incidents, leading to Movie Gallery’s termination of Perales’ employment “to avoid an escalation of racial violence against him,” was a factor in his dismissal.
Portland attorney Chad Hansen, who represented Perales before the commission, said Monday he is pleased with the decision for his client. Hansen said that his client plans to pursue the issue in court and that he will continue to represent him.
Movie Gallery employs more than 40 workers in Maine and is required to abide by the Maine Human Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and state and federal employment regulations, according to the commission.
A Human Rights Commission decision is not a legal court finding, but a decision favoring a complainant can lead to court action.