Maine Firefighter Alleges Sex Discrimination and Retaliation

A female firefighter in a small Maine town has filed suit alleging she has been subjected to a hostile work environment by coworkers in the fire department and by elected town officials as well.

Andrea Thompson filed suit in York County Superior Court against the Town of Limington, two current members of the Board of Selectmen, Darryl Hubbard and Bruce Rozett, and two former board members, Charles Huntress and Raymond Webb.

Her rambling 18 page complaint includes a litany of complaints of inappropriate language and conduct by male firefighters and officials. She claims much of the conduct was done in the presence of officers who did nothing to stop it, and accuses town officials of condoning the conduct by footdragging their investigation of her allegations. She also claims the selectmen retaliated against her.

Here is a sampling of the conduct outlined in the complaint:

  • Over the past 10 years, she was subjected to being called “bitch” and “dumb blonde,” and to fat jokes and breast comments.
  • After returning from having her third child in May, while looking at her chest, Firefighter driver and EMA Director Robert Axelsen, Sr., said to her, “Wow, you must be nursing.”
  • Axelsen, Sr., referred to females as Bitches…
  • Selectman Huntress had come into the Chief’s office and complained about [his female assistant] and that he thought she might be going through the “change” because she had been extremely difficult and emotional to deal with and that if she didn’t know so much he would get rid of her. 
  • In March 2010, after the yearly town meeting, Axelsen said, did you see … last night?  “The selectmen need to shut that bitch up.”
  • Axelsen would ask male department members to show him the distance between their thumb and index finger and say that’s how you can tell the size of a man’s penis.
  • In April 2010, Axelsen continued making sexual and gender based comments to Thompson, such as, What’s the difference between a blonde and a rooster?  A rooster says Morning. A Blonde says any cock’ll do.   He would also make comments such as  “Hey Blondie” instead of calling her by name
  • Thompson’s husband on several occasions went to Selectman Huntress to discuss issues regarding Axelsen, including HIPAA violations, inappropriate comments, and multiple driving issues. Selectman Huntress prohibited Chief Thompson from taking action, including any discipline of Axelsen
  • In June 2010, Thompson entered the Department truck bay.  Kiesman was bragging and showing department members graphic pictures on his phone of his wife’s new breast augmentation.  Witnesses included management.  Others commented on her breasts.  Kiesman was bragging about his wife’s new boobs.  
  • Later the same evening, Kiesman approached Thompson and said he and his wife had received a $7,000 tax return.  He said this year she gets boobs and next year he gets a Harley.  Kiesman was looking at her chest while saying, “Not that you need any help with fake boobs.”  Thompson left the building highly upset and embarrassed.  She reported this conduct as well.  No action was taken to stop Kiesman.
  • On September 9, 2010, Thompson was given a letter from the Selectmen telling her that she was not being reappointed to Emergency Management Deputy.  Instead, the Selectmen removed her altogether and kept her harasser.  Hubbard, Huntress, and Webb were all part of this decision to remove Thompson and retain her harasser.
  • Axelsen admitted at his hearing in 2011 that he had recommended that Thompson not be re-appointed in September 2010.  Axelsen was one of her harassers who the Town specifically found had created a hostile work environment.

The complaint includes five counts: sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, retaliation in violation of Title VII, violation of Maine Human Rights Act, retaliation under the Maine Human Rights Act, and violation of equal protection under the federal and state constitutions.

Here is a copy of the complaint: THOMPSON v LIMINGTON

What’s the chances we’ll see a removal to federal court?

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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