David Ako-Annan, a native of Ghana, won $3 million in damages in his race discrimination lawsuit against Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. Ako-Annan was fired in 2019 as the practice manager of its Orono primary care location. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center has asked a federal judge to reduce the amount of damages it owes after a former employee won a race discrimination case against the hospital from $3 million to $800,000.

The Bangor hospital’s attorneys claimed Thursday that Maine law caps damages in David Ako-Annan’s case at $800,000.

Last month, an all-white jury found that the hospital discriminated against Ako-Annan, 46, of Milford on the basis of race but not sex. Jurors awarded him $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.

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

Motions to reduce damages following civil trials are common. No matter how U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivison rules, the losing side most likely will appeal his decision to the appellate court in Boston.

Ako-Annan was fired in 2019 as the practice manager of the hospital’s primary care practice in Orono.

He sued EMMC in U.S District Court in Bangor that same year alleging that a supervisor discriminated against him because he’s Black and male. The hospital denied discriminating against Ako-Annan, saying that turnover at the Orono facility was high and he was not addressing concerns that had been expressed about his leadership there.

The hospital’s attorney, Melissa Hewey of Portland, said in her filing that state and federal law caps the amount of damages that can be awarded in Ako-Annan’s case at $800,000. She also argued that Ako-Anan’s attorney limited the amount that could be awarded by saying in early court filings that his client was entitled to $500,000 in damages.

Webbert disagreed.

“The jury’s verdict sent both a legal and moral message that EMMC needs to work harder to eradicate racial bias in its workplace,” the lawyer said Thursday. “Mr. Ako-Annan is disappointed that EMMC is seeking to nullify the jury’s decision rather than listening and learning from it.”

Webbert also said that the nation’s oldest civil rights law passed as part of the post-Civil War Civil Rights Act of 1866 “provides for unlimited compensatory and punitive damages.

“EMMC’s technical arguments miss the point that the jury’s verdict was well within what is allowed by law and should be respected not attacked,” he said.

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 at any of EMMC’s five primary care locations.

The hospital announced last week that it would close its Orono location on Jan. 1 and consolidate it with practices in Bangor and Hampden.

The verdict in Ako-Annan’s case was the second time this year that Northern Light Health has been found in federal court to have discriminated against an employee.

In February, U.S. District Judge Lance Walker ruled that Bangor psychologist Clare Mundell, 59, could collect nearly $200,000 from Acadia Hospital. Mundell, who is also a Bangor School Committee member, had sued last year, alleging that she was paid half what her male counterparts received. The health care system admitted that it paid Mundell less but said it was not because of her sex.

The case marked the first time any judge has interpreted Maine’s Equal Pay Act since its 1949 passage. Northern Light appealed Walker’s decision to the 1st U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston, where the case is pending.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Ako-Annan’s attorney who stated in early court filings the amount of damages to which Ako-Annan was entitled. The story also misstated that amount.