Judge says lawsuit claiming discrimination at Orono medical practice may go forward

·3 min read

Aug. 25—A discrimination lawsuit filed by a former office manager at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center's primary care practice in Orono may go forward after a federal judge denied the hospital's request for a judgment without a trial.

David Ako-Annan, 44, of Milford sued EMMC in October 2019 alleging that a supervisor discriminated against him because he's Black and male.

He also claimed that he was fired after expressing concerns to a supervisor that a medical provider was writing inappropriate prescriptions for narcotics, prescribing narcotics to a person suspected of selling them, using medical assistants outside the scope of their practice, and falsifying family and medical leave documents for staff.

In addition to the discrimination claims, Ako-Annan alleged that his firing violated the Maine Whistleblower Protection Act.

A native of Ghana who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, Ako-Annan is seeking unspecified compensatory damages, including back pay and the salary and benefits he would have earned had he not been fired, as well as punitive damages.

In a 94-page ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock found that there were enough facts in dispute that a jury should decide whether the hospital discriminated against Ako-Annan.

"Mr. Ako-Annan has raised enough evidence in this record to create a genuine issue of fact as to whether [his supervisor's] behavior toward him was very different from her behavior toward the white female practice managers, the female providers in the Orono Practice, and the female staff at the Orono Practice," the judge said. "Under the circumstances, a jury could reasonably conclude [the supervisor] harbored implicit race and sex-based bias toward Mr. Ako-Annan and that bias colored her evaluation and treatment of him."

Attorneys for the hospital argued that there was "absolutely no evidence to tie his race, his sex, or his alleged whistleblowing activities to his termination and accordingly, EMMC is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

Ako-Annan worked as the office manager of the practice at 84 Kelley Road in Orono from 2016 to April 2, 2019, the lawsuit said.

He claimed in the lawsuit that, among other things, his female supervisor questioned his intelligence, suggested he look elsewhere for work, made racially insensitive remarks and told him he was to apply staff rules differently to female employees than to male employees.

He said that over the years he had filed three grievances alleging racial discrimination, including inappropriate remarks by white coworkers, but the hospital had not taken significant steps to address the problem.

Before filing the lawsuit, Ako-Annan filed complaints with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He received right-to-sue letters before the agencies were able to investigate and issue findings.

Since being fired, Ako-Annan has earned a doctorate degree in business administration from Northcentral University in California, according to his attorney, Brett Baber of Bangor.

"Mr. Ako-Annan welcomes the opportunity to submit his claims to a jury as a result of the judge's ruling," Baber said.

Northern Light spokesperson Suzanne Spruce on Tuesday denied that the hospital discriminated against Ako-Annan.

"The summary judgment standard requires that the court accept all of the plaintiff's allegations as true so it is very difficult to prevail," she said. "Here, the court noted, among other things, that the Plaintiff's claim was 'thin' but still denied our motion. Mr. Ako-Annan was not discriminated against and we look forward to trial and the opportunity to be vindicated."

A jury trial has been tentatively set for November.

The medical center is one of 10 hospitals under the parent organization Northern Light Health that stretch from Portland to Presque Isle. The hospitals and their affiliates together employ about 12,500 people.

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