A former employee of Somerset County has sued the county’s commissioners, alleging that her hours and benefits were cut after she rejected romantic advances from the county commission’s chair.
Stacy Price, 62, of Canaan claims in the lawsuit that Newell Graf’s actions violated the Maine Human Rights Act and the federal Civil Rights Act.
She is seeking unspecified damages for alleged sexual harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment.
The county’s attorney, Peter Marchesi of Augusta, on Monday called Price’s claims “meritless.” He said that the reduction in hours was due to the closure of buildings as a result of the pandemic.
Price was hired in May 2019 to work part-time as a custodian for $12 an hour cleaning the Somerset County Superior Courthouse, the Communications Center and the Emergency Operations Center, according to the complaint filed by her attorney Stephen Smith of Augusta.
She also was hired in January 2020 to clean Graf’s home once a week.
The following April, Graf, 65, of Skowhegan suggested that he and Price begin dating, the complaint said. Price allegedly told Graf that she was not interested in a romantic relationship but agreed to meet him in group settings, such as on trips to local greenhouses and local restaurants.
Price was made a full-time employee with health care and other benefits in May 2020, the complaint said. Graf allegedly took credit for getting her promoted and, in June, asked her to go away with him for a weekend.
In October, Graf told Price he no longer needed a housekeeper, the complaint said. The county allegedly demoted Price the next month, when her hours were cut to 20 per week and she no longer received benefits after she repeatedly spurned Graf.
She left the job on Dec. 11, 2020, according to Marchesi.
“The employee was dissatisfied with the reduction in hours and essentially walked off of the job with no sort of notice or warning,” he said. “Subsequently, she claimed that what had been a mutual and platonic casual friendship with one of the county commissioners was the basis for the reduction in her hours.”
Graf was first elected the commissioner for District 4, which is made up of Skowhegan and Canaan, in 2014 after serving on the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen. His term expires in December 2022.
Price initially filed the lawsuit in October in Somerset County Superior Court. The commissioners’ attorney on Friday moved the case to U.S. District Court in Bangor.