A man who says one of the owners of a Maine-based jewelry company called him a “Big Indian” when he worked there has won $40,000 in a lawsuit.
Jason Brown said comments his employers made, including about “Indians and firewater,” made him feel his Native American heritage was reduced to a joke and a stereotype. Brown is a Penobscot Indian Nation member.
Day’s Jewelers owners Jeff and Kathy Corey have denied making the statements. Day’s Jewelers president Davis Harris said the company still is reviewing its options in response to the decision.
The 104 year-old, family-owned company operates six stores in Maine and one in New Hampshire.
Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy found last month that Brown was subjected to harassment based on his race and awarded the damages. She said Brown didn’t prove he should receive back pay or that the owners violated the Maine Human Rights Act.
Brown began working at Day’s Jewelers in in 2003 and most recently worked there in 2013. He left the company briefly twice, both times voluntarily and in good standing, he said.
He held positions in marketing, public affairs and manager-in-training.
Murphy said it’s clear Jeff Corey considered Brown a “friend and confidante.”
“It is clear to the court that Kathy Corey and Jeff Corey had at the time of these events little insight into how their behavior and remarks harmed Mr. Brown, but the court finds that he has proven by a preponderance of evidence that it did,” the judge wrote.
The judge said it’s likely that Brown recognized that he couldn’t advance professionally within the company if he challenged his treatment or “objected to their behavior and comments every step of the way.”
In the lawsuit, Brown says Jeff Corey told him it’d be better for his career if he dropped his 2012 human resources complaint about a fellow Day’s Jewelers employee who questioned his Native American heritage.
Murphy’s opinion says it’s “undisputed” that Jeff Corey showed Brown a picture of a man dressed up in Native American clothing doing a “rain dance.” In Maine, tribe dances are a form of prayer.
It was “objectively and subjectively reasonable for Mr. Brown to be offended by these remarks and incidents,” Murphy wrote.