Freeport woman claims discrimination by Bath shipyard

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PORTLAND — A Freeport woman employed by Bath Iron Works for 10 years is suing the shipyard, claiming she was discriminated against and forced to leave her job.

Ruth Soong filed the federal lawsuit Aug. 3 in U.S. District Court, after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dismissed her complaint.

She asked for a court-appointed attorney, but the court concluded in a Aug. 7 filing that “the law and facts relevant to (her) case are sufficiently straightforward such that (she) should be able to represent herself, and that (her) case does not present ‘exceptional circumstances’ to warrant the appointment of counsel.”

Both Soong and BIW spokesman David Hench declined Monday to discuss the case.

Soong in the complaint called herself “a conscientious Singaporean national female” as well as a permanent U.S. resident. She said prior to being hired she revealed she has chondromalacia patella, a condition in which the kneecap’s cartilage softens and deteriorates. Accordingly, she has a handicapped parking permit.

She had no mental health issues prior to the alleged discrimination, but became diagnosed with isolated anxiety adjustment disorder, which she called “a work-inflicted injury through the hostility of (BIW).”

Soong said she believed she was harassed because of race, age – 55 – anxiety disorder, and complaints she filed with BIW’s Ethics Committee and the federal EEOC.

Soong’s lawsuit says she is “a voice of the poor who needed protection from the law,” and she is “prepared for an inquisition for the truth to be known.”

Those intending to sue under federal law – claiming discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age and disability – must first file their charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to eeoc.gov. Soong filed in April, saying she had been employed by BIW as a marine designer since January 2007 and “was forced to resign my position/take early retirement” last November.

She told the commission that since April 2017 she had to take part in mentoring sessions with her managers and supervisors, due to issues they cited about her performance, including taking too much time in completing assignments.

Soong said she “was told to complete fixing a ship structural part in 14 minutes or else would certainly face termination of employment … when (she) could justify the complexity of her duties, which required more time.”

After returning to work in August 2017 from short-term disability and doctor-prescribed medical leave, Soong claimed she “received warnings … in unusually quick sequence,” which continued despite her reports of the matter to BIW’s Ethics Committee.

Soong said the “intolerable” conditions forced her to take another leave, after which BIW allegedly “responded in retaliation by initiating the process of termination of her employment through fabrication of false reports and their inequitable measurement of time provided for tasks between (her) and other employees.”

Suspecting the “imminent finale of (BIW’s) discharge conspiracy,” Soong stated that she “activated her retirement benefits” and left as soon as possible, “forced to activate a premature pension immediately” after her final day last November.

The EEOC closed its investigation in May, stating in a letter to Soong that it could not conclude that the information she provided established a federal law violation by BIW.

“This does not certify that (BIW) is in compliance with the statutes,” the letter added. “No finding is made as to any other issue that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.”

In concluding its processing of the charge, the EEOC issued Soong a May 10 notice of dismissal and right to sue, allowing her 90 days to pursue the matter in court. Any delay beyond that point would have cost Soong her ability to sue the shipbuilder.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Bath Iron Works

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.