AUGUSTA, Maine — A former Portland trash collector made an emotional plea to the Maine Human Rights Commission Monday morning, asking they find that his claim of sexual harassment by his female supervisor had merit — and they listened.
The commissioners decided unanimously that David Tanguay of Falmouth likely suffered discrimination when he was employed by the city of Portland. Tanguay and the city now will endeavor to reach a negotiated resolution. If they cannot, Tanguay can file a lawsuit against the city of Portland.
“It makes you feel better,” Tanguay, who had to leave the hearing room briefly to compose himself after making his case, said afterward. “Whatever happens now, happens. At least the commissioners don’t feel like I’m a weak loser.”
Jennifer Thompson, an attorney representing the city of Portland at the hearing, had few words to share before leaving.
“We’re disappointed,” she said. “That’s all I’m going to say at this point.”
Tanguay, who left his job because of an injury and is currently unemployed, said in a complaint filed with the commission that his supervisor had sexually harassed him by doodling a crude male organ on the back of his employee self-evaluation, among other acts. He also claimed that the city of Portland, when notified of of the alleged harassment, did not take prompt or appropriate action to stop it.
According to the Maine Human Rights Act, harassment on the basis of sex is illegal, including verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when it creates an intimidating or hostile workplace environment.
Once Tanguay filed a complaint with the city about the sexual doodle on Feb. 1, 2012, matters got worse, he said. Shortly after that, he opened his work locker and found two pornographic DVDs with notes taped on them. One said that he was “a fag,” and told him to die. The other told him to leave the solid waste supervisor alone, or else.
Tanguay said Monday that city investigators didn’t do a good enough job looking into the incidents, which made him feel uncomfortable and triggered post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered from things he had endured when he was younger.
“I am a big guy,” he told commissioners. “People think you shouldn’t suffer problems from things like this because you are a man.”
Thompson told commissioners that she understands the facts in the case are bad.
“There’s no dispute that Mr. Tanguay’s allegations are disturbing,” she said. “But there is a dispute over whether Mr. Tanguay has an actionable claim.”
She said that the city exercised reasonable care to halt the harassment, speaking to the supervisor about her habit of calling employees “honey” or “babe” and asking her to stop. She said that while Tanguay complained about the “crudely drawn image” that he had photographed with his iPhone before handing back his evaluation, he failed to produce the image when the city asked him to do so.
“The city was left with an allegation of a penis drawing and with two people who said no, it wasn’t true,’” she said of the investigation. “One year later, he produced the drawing. In the meantime, his supervisor has rights, too.”
When the supervisor was asked for the evaluation, she handed over a document that appeared to be a copy and that had no doodling on the back.
Investigator Barbara Lelli told the commission that she believed the city did not do enough to repair the situation or to assure Tanguay that he could safely return to work.
“No one was held accountable for any of this,” she said. “No one apologized. People really disregarded how this kind of behavior in the workplace [can affect workers].”