A former assistant manager at the Hannaford supermarket in Lincoln claims that she was demoted in 2020 after reporting to the store manager and upper management that staff and customers weren’t following protocols to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Karen Furrow, 56, of Lincoln, who currently works as a Hannaford To Go manager, sued Hannaford Bros. Co. LLC, based in Scarborough, and her store manager, Michael Bennett of Lakeview Plantation, on Wednesday in Penobscot County Superior Court.
The case is part of a growing number of labor lawsuits nationwide alleging coronavirus-related labor and employment violations.
Furrow is seeking reinstatement as assistant manager, back pay and benefits, unspecified damages for emotional distress, unspecified punitive damages and compensation of $100 per day for every day the damage took place.
The lawsuit claims that Bennett and the company violated the Maine Human Rights Act, the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, and the non-retaliation provision in the Maine Family Medical Leave law.
Hannaford spokesperson Ericka Dodge declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Furrow began working at the Lincoln store in 1997. In 2012, she was promoted to assistant manager after working as the grocery manager, according to the complaint. Furrow claims she was demoted in February 2021, after she returned from an approved three-month leave of absence taken to avoid contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to her husband, who was at high risk due to his underlying health conditions.
She also claims that Bennett did not follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask and social distancing guides and did not make customers, vendors and employees follow them. When Furrow complained to the manager about customers not following the guidelines, he allegedly told her: “We’re doing everything we can; and if people don’t like it they can take a leave, and that includes you.”
Furrow also passed her concerns on to upper management but nothing changed, the complaint said.
In March 2021, Bennett criticized Furrow in her annual review for 2020 for not following proper channels of communication and going over his head to report her concerns to a Hannaford vice president and others.
Two months later, the assistant manager position opened up. Furrow applied for it, but Bennett gave the job to a less qualified applicant, the complaint alleged. In June, Furrow applied for the job of grocery manager, a position she’d previously held. Again, Bennett allegedly gave the job to a less qualified person.
Furrow’s attorney, John Gause of Bangor, said in the complaint that Furrow was the only one of Hannaford’s 28,000 employees in Maine to be “demoted or involuntarily removed from their positions for taking a leave due to COVID concerns.”