An all-white jury will decide if Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center discriminated against a Black man when the organization fired him in 2019 as the practice manager of its Orono primary care location or if he was terminated due to poor job performance.
David Ako-Annan, 46, of Milford sued EMMC in October 2019 alleging that a supervisor discriminated against him because he’s Black and male. The hospital has denied discriminating against Ako-Annan and said that turnover at the Orono facility was high and he was not addressing concerns that had been expressed about his leadership there.
His trial in U.S. District Court in Bangor began Monday with opening statements and Ako-Annan testifying to a jury of five women and four men, including three alternates. Under federal law, a jury of six people deliberate in civil trials. U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivison is presiding.
Ako-Annan was hired in June 2013 and fired in early April 2019, a day after he returned from visiting his ill mother in his native Ghana, according to testimony. He told jurors that he was the only Black and only male manager out of EMMC’s five primary care locations.
His conflicts with his supervisor, Donna Ashe, began in 2017, a few months after she was hired. When Ako-Annan expressed concerns that he was being treated differently and unfairly compared to white female practice managers, Ashe said that she could not be prejudiced against him on the basis of race, because “I have a black foster child, so please don’t talk to me about discrimination,” his attorney, Ryan Schmitz of Augusta, told jurors in his opening statement.
The hospital’s attorney, Kasia Park of Portland, told the jury in her opening that the only reason Ako-Annan was fired was because of poor job performance. She described the work environment at the Orono facility as “tense, stressful and negative.”
“David was the captain and his ship, the office, was going down fast,” Park said.
Under direct examination, Ako-Anon said that morale in the office was low prior to his firing, but it was due to problems with the transition to a new electronic record-keeping system.
Ako-Annan’s legal team expressed concern before the jury was selected earlier this month about his ability to receive a fair trial in northern Maine, which is less racially and ethnically diverse than southern Maine.
Last month, Nivison denied a motion to move the trial to Portland in an attempt to have a more diverse jury pool. The judge also refused to include residents of Cumberland County in jury selection.
Nivison said that the federal rules of civil procedure did not allow him to expand the jury pool beyond Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo, and Washington counties. Those are the counties from which federal criminal and civil cases are assigned to Bangor. Cases from all other Maine counties are assigned to Portland.
Ako-Annan is seeking unspecified compensatory damages, including back pay and the salary and benefits he would have earned had he not been fired, as well as punitive damages. He testified Monday that he has not found a new job in his field and spends four hours a day job hunting. He also said that he has spent $100,000 of the $120,000 in savings he had for living expenses since being fired.
The case is expected to go to the jury on Friday. To find in Ako-Anon’s favor, jurors must find that it is more likely than not that the hospital discriminated against him.