April 06, 2020

Rights panel backs waitress’s complaint> Ellsworth restaurateur accused of harassment

For the second time in two years, the Maine Human Rights Commission has ruled that there are reasonable grounds to believe restaurateur Paul Heyse, owner of Pop’s Chowder House and Pub in the Maine Coast Mall in Ellsworth, sexually harassed a waitress to the point where she felt forced to give up her job.

Michelle Smith of Hancock reported to the commission that during the six weeks she worked at Pop’s last spring, Heyse frequently made sexual remarks about her until she decided to quit.

At the commission’s hearing Monday in Augusta, Smith testified that Heyse has visited her and harassed her at her new job as well. She also testified that he wrote “fat-assed bitch” on her W-2 tax form, she recently received in the mail.

Heyse denied the allegations and produced letters from Smith’s ex-boyfriend, a security guard at the mall, and another employee that said Smith quit because she said she wasn’t making enough money.

Paul Vestal, a member of the commission, pointed out that the board’s decision in favor of Smith rested largely on the credibility of the two parties. He read a letter, written by Heyse, from the investigation file that read “in my own defense, her ass is a big one. It does nothing for me. I’m not the big-ass type.”

The commission agreed with investigator Paul Pierce’s report.

“Conduct such as comments about her buttocks to Ms. Smith and to male customers … being rubbed against; comments about erections when she walked by; smelling like a French whore; and his final comment that she was a […] whore, plainly constitute unlawful sexual harassment within the meaning of the Maine Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,” the report says.

Last January, Sandra Gilbert of Bucksport filed a complaint alleging sexual discrimination in employment, accusing Heyse of repeatedly touching her neck and shoulders and making suggestive sexual remarks during the four months she worked as a waitress at Pop’s in 1996. Heyse did not respond to the charges in that investigation.

The commission also found in Gilbert’s favor last summer. The commission acts as a clearinghouse for discrimination complaints. Its staff investigates and recommends actions. If the commission finds discrimination has occurred, the case continues to conciliation. If that fails, the next step is Superior Court.

Last May, Pop’s Chowder House was written up by the Ellsworth Fire Department and code enforcement officer for numerous health code and fire and safety code violations. The restaurant had also been operating without a victualer’s license. In August, the City Council denied Heyse’s request for a liquor license.

NEWS reporter Walter Griffin contributed to this report.

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