PORTLAND, Maine — A federal judge has denied Whole Foods’ move to dismiss a racial discrimination lawsuit, after the store argued the former employee of its Portland store had not filed a proper complaint with a state commission.

U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby on Wednesday denied a Whole Foods motion to dismiss the lawsuit, in which plaintiff William Apire alleged supervisors fired him for complaining about harassment that began when he found at his desk a toy pig with a string tied around its neck.

Whole Foods had argued that Apire’s four charges against the all-organic grocer should be dismissed because he filed a formal complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission two days beyond the statute of limitations.

The grocer argued that because Apire had missed a 300-day deadline for filing such a complaint, he did not have the right to bring a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The ruling hinged on whether an intake form Apire filled out with the Maine Human Rights Commission included all the required elements of a formal complaint under federal law. Hornby ruled that it did and that the late formal filing was not grounds for dismissing the suit.

Apire alleged that after becoming an assistant team leader, he experienced multiple instances of verbal harassment from co-workers and a supervisor, including ethnic slurs and statements from a supervisor that his team shouldn’t listen to him because of his skin color.

Apire claims in the complaint that during the six months he spoke with various supervisors at the company, at the local and regional level, he was urged to stop discussing the incidents.

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.