Bath Iron Works accused of discrimination against employees

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BATH — Eighteen Bath Iron Works employees formally complained to the Maine Human Rights Commission that the shipyard violated their rights “individually and systematically due to a company-wide pattern of discrimination against older employees.”

Some of the complaints also allege that the shipyard discriminated against employees based on their disabilities and denied reasonable accommodation for disability as required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

A Maine Human Rights Commission investigator found reasonable grounds to support complaints filed by three men, preservation technicians Rodney Kates of Lewiston, Charles Dorr of Sidney and Joseph Page of South China.

Victoria Ternig, chief investigator for the commission, recommended the commission dismiss the complaints of the other employees because they lack reasonable grounds.

Amy Sneirson, executive director of the commission, said Wednesday that the parties in Page’s case reported to the commission that they had settled and asked that it be withdrawn from the consent agenda.

Bath Iron Works employs approximately 5,600 people, and is thus subject to the Maine Human Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the investigator’s reports, BIW announced in early November 2012 that it would lay off 24 preservation technicians whose disabilities – ranging from degenerative disc disease to a history of various surgeries – left them unable to grind material and prohibited them from working in confined spaces, crawling and lifting more than 25 pounds.

All 24 were instead transferred to different positions in which they received the same pay but were unable to earn overtime, according to the complaints.

In October 2013, all 24 were returned to their original positions.

Bath Iron Works argued that grinding and other tasks are essential functions of the preservation technician position, and that the contract between the shipyard and machinists union outlines 30 specific tasks including “the largest component,” grinding.

George Edwards, business representative for Local S6 of the union, said Wednesday that several employees who filed complaints to the rights commission have also filed grievances about lost overtime pay, and those grievances are in arbitration.

Edwards said Wednesday that while BIW employees have previously filed human rights complaints against the company, “this is a unique case involving a large number of people.”

BIW spokesman Matt Wickenheiser said Wednesday that the company had no comment.

The commission is scheduled to vote Monday on the investigator’s reports.

Bath Iron Works’ largest crane towers over the shipyard in Bath.