AUGUSTA — A Camden pizza shop owner sexually harassed a teen-age employee, the state Human Rights Commission ruled Monday.
The commission, voting 3-1, found reasonable grounds for an allegation of sexual harassment against Zafiris Soldatos, owner of the Camden House of Pizza and the Waldoboro House of Pizza.
The complaint was filed by former employee Trisha Audette, 17, of Bangor, who broke down in tears when the decision was announced Monday afternoon.
Commission investigator Paul Pierce said Audette was placed in a working situation “which any reasonable teen-age girl would have found uncomfortable.”
The commission acts as a clearinghouse for discrimination complaints. If grounds for discrimination are found, the complaint continues to negotiation for a settlement. If that fails, the complaint continues to Superior Court, where the final settlement can include monetary damages.
In her complaint, Audette said she worked at the Camden and Waldoboro pizza shops from April to June 1998. During that employment, Soldatos made inappropriate comments, asked to go to the park, withheld $10 from her pay unless she sat on his lap, grabbed her hips and arms, and rubbed his body against her, Audette told the commission. She hesitated to file a complaint and even returned to work after the incidents because “I thought no one would believe me,” she said.
Soldatos said he never touched the girl and that the harassment complaint was filed after he refused to hire her friend for a job. He said his wife and three children were in the pizza shops constantly, precluding any of the activity described by the girl. He said the $10 incident concerned missing money from the cash register, and eventually was returned to the girl.
Audette said the owner’s wife and children were never around when she was bothered.
Commission members expressed discomfort with the “he said, she said,” nature of the case since there were no witnesses. The commission finally voted 3-1 to support the complaint, with Linda Abromson casting the negative vote. Abromson said she found it hard to believe that the girl would go back to the job if she was being harassed so badly.
In other cases, the commission found that:
Valerie Jacobs of Seal Cove was discriminated against by Renegades Inc., an Ellsworth bar. Jacobs said she was fired in retribution after she refused to serve a bar patron who did not have correct identification. Commission member Paul Vestal said Jacobs acted correctly as she was trained. If she served a patron who then got into an accident, the bartender would have been liable, Vestal said.
The Country Corner Store of Stetson discriminated against Vanessa Welch of Carmel. Welch said she was fired from the store in March 1997 when it was discovered that she had filed a Workers’ Compensation complaint against a previous employer.
The commission rejected a complaint filed by Nancy Pichette of Dexter against the Bangor law firm Rudman and Winchell. Pichette said she was struck in the head twice by a supervisor, then quit when nothing was done about it. Pichette worked at the firm from 1989 to 1998, when she resigned as office manager. An unidentified female supervisor struck her on the head twice when she did not catch on quickly enough during computer training, she told the commission.
Attorney Michael Messerschmidt, who represented the Bangor firm, said the two women were close friends who bought each other gifts. Since the supervisor recommended Pichette for the post as office manager, it was difficult to reconcile the alleged assaults with such friendly, supportive behavior, Messerschmidt told the commission.
The commission found for no grounds for complaints filed by:
Janelle Plourde of Madawaska against St. Joseph Nursing Home of Frenchville.
Robin Emery of Searsport against Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department.
John Collins of Brunswick against MBNA.
Diane Richard of Livermore Falls against International Paper Co.
Marie Curtis of West Paris against Mead Corp. of Rumford.
Lauri Nicholas of Dover-Foxcroft against Foxcroft Academy.
Michael Smen of Bangor against Gray Insulation Co. of Brewer.
John Treadwell of Glenburn against Rent-A-Vision of Dexter.
Three complaints against the Hong Kong Gardens in Calais were tabled until a future meeting.