An all-white jury awarded a native of Ghana $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages after it determined that Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center discriminated against him on the basis of race when the organization fired him in 2019 as the practice manager of its Orono primary care location.

An all-white jury sided with David Ako-Annan in his discrimination suit against Eastern Maine Medical Center.
David Ako-Annan on Wednesday won a $3 million judgement in his race and sex discrimination lawsuit against Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. The jury concluded that the hospital fired him illegally in 2019 as the manager of its Orono office. Credit: Courtesy of David Ako-Annan

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 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.

The award is the largest in an employment race discrimination case in Maine history, according to Ako-Annon’s attorney, David Webbert of Augusta.

Webbert said the outcome sent an important message.

“This case is critical to sending a message to EMMC that it must work harder to ensure the fair and equal treatment of workers who are Black or people of color,” he said in his closing argument. “And it must listen when Black employees like David raise concerns about discriminatory treatment and live up to its written policies affirming racial diversity as a core value.”

The jury found the hospital discriminated against Ako-Annon based on his race but not on his sex. Jurors deliberated for about four hours before announcing their verdict and the award for compensatory damages. They then considered the amount of punitive damages to be awarded for about 90 minutes.

“We are obviously disappointed by the jury’s conclusion,” Suzanne Spruce, a spokesperson for EMMC parent organization Northern Light Health, said Thursday. “We believe the evidence clearly demonstrates that Mr. Ako-Annan failed to do his job in an acceptable manner. We continue to stand behind our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in our workforce and believe it was amply demonstrated in this case.” 

The seven-day trial in U.S. District Court in Bangor began last week before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivison.

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 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.

When Ashe took the stand, jurors learned that she had cared for a bi-racial child in the 1980s but was not a foster mother at the time she made the remark to Ako-Annan.

Kasia Park of Portland, the hospital’s attorney, told the jury 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.

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.

In September, 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 federal court in Portland.

Ako-Annan sought 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 on Oct. 24, the first day of the trial, 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.