A superior court judge has found that a Native American employee of Day's Jewelers was subjected to a hostile work environment during the many years he worked there because of his race. The judge did, though, dismiss several other related claims, saying they were not the result of race-based harassment.
Jason Brown worked for Day's Jewelers in Maine for close to seven years in several different jobs. In an interview with Maine Public Radio in 2015,v he said his boss routinely called him "Big Indian," made wisecracks about "Indians and firewater," used the N-word in front of his co-workers and once told a non-native employee with a long, black braid that she looked like a "squaw." He said he was also subjected to offensive images.
In her ten-page decision, Justice Michaela Murphy concluded that Brown was subjected to unwelcome harassment based on race, but she could not find that the defendant's' conduct constituted malicious intent as defined by the Maine Human Rights Act.
“What Justice Murphy found is that they did not recognize how problematic their behaviors were,” says Eric Mehnert, an attorney for Jason Brown.
Mehnert said that during a two-day trial last October the Court heard from an expert on the negative effects of stereotypes used against African Americans and Native Americans and how they can create lasting harm to self esteem. After his testimony, two company officials testified that they then understood how the behavior taking place at the store would be offensive.
“I think that with that finding it was probably inappropriate for Justice Murphy to find there was no malicious intent,” Mehnert says.
Justice Murphy also did not find that Brown's departure from the company was the result of harassment. She declined to award back pay or punitive damages, but she did grant him $40,000 in damages for emotional pain and suffering. It's unclear whether her judgment will be appealed.
An attorney for Day's Jewelers was unavailable for comment.