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posted Friday, July 16, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 29
Maine man wins $1 million discrimination suit
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Maine man wins $1 million discrimination suit

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Edward Russell of Buxton, Maine, was awarded more than $1 million in a discrimination suit.

Russell's attorney argued that he had repeatedly been passed over for promotion solely because he is Gay, and a jury agreed after six hours of deliberation.

The jury found that Russell's former employer, Express Jet Airlines, had violated Maine's Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation. Jurors awarded Russell $500,000 for emotional distress, $500,000 for punitive damages and $47,000 in lost wages.

Russell's attorney, Guy Loranger, told Portland Press Herald reporters on July 13 that the judge will determine what award caps apply. He speculated the overall award will be capped at $547,000, plus attorney's fees and other costs.

Attorneys for the company are arguing for a lower cap, Loranger said, and have said they would appeal.

According to the Press Herald, Express Jet's Vermont-based attorney could not be reached for comment, and the company's media relations office did not return a call for comment.

Loranger said this is the largest sexual orientation discrimination award in Maine. Maine Human Rights Commission counsel John Gause confirmed Loranger's statement.

"This guy was completely qualified to do the job," Loranger said. "The jury said it didn't matter his color, his race, his national origin or his sexual preference - he was qualified to do the job and you should have allowed him to do it." Russell worked for Express Jet from 1998 until 2007.

According to court documents, the company's general manager lost his job in 2003. The position became open four times in the next four years.

Russell filled in as acting-manager several times, and wanted the job, but was told by regional managers not to waste his time applying for it, the documents said.

"Our theory was they decided they did not want another Gay man out there," Loranger said, because of a previous discrimination charge brought by three women employees.

At one point, the company hired a general manager described by a regional manager as a "real man." That general manager made disparaging comments about Gay people at work, according to the complaint.

Russell left the job in 2007 "because of the discriminatory treatment," court documents said.

Express Jet Airlines operates regional jets for other airlines. At the time Russell worked there, it was the regional operator for Continental Airlines at the Portland, Maine, International Jetport.

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