November 4, 2022

Largest-Ever Race Discrimination Verdict in Maine

On November 2, 2022, a jury in the Bangor federal courthouse returned a verdict of $3,000,000 for David Ako-Annan against Eastern Maine Medical Center. This verdict found that EMMC engaged in unlawful racial discrimination when it terminated his employment; it also awarded $1,500,000 in compensatory damages and $1,500,000 in punitive damages for EMMC’s reckless disregard for Mr. Ako-Annan’s right not to be discriminated against because of his race.

Plaintiff David Ako-Annan has lived in Milford for about ten years and is age 46. He was the practice manager between June 2013 and April 2019 at a primary care medical office in Orono operated by EMMC. Mr. Ako-Annan is a Black immigrant from Ghana who moved to Maine to attend college at the University of Maine at Orono where he earned his B.S. degree in 2011. During college he worked at Asplundh Tree (using a chainsaw to cut down trees around power lines during the winter), Wendy’s, Burger King, and the University’s IT department and its Cafeteria Common. After college, he studied at Husson University and in 2013 earned a master’s degree in Business Administration, majoring in Healthcare Management, and in 2015 earned a master’s degree in Human Relations and Counseling. He then began working on his Ph.D., which he was awarded in May 2021 in International Business, with his dissertation on Healthcare.  

Because of the jury finding that his termination was because of race discrimination, Mr. Ako-Annan also has a right to recover his lost back pay and benefits, which are over $300,000, plus future lost pay and benefits, and his hourly legal fees, which are over $400,000.

David Ako-Annan commented: “I chose to go to college at the University of Maine in Orono because I thought it was a great opportunity to achieve an excellent education and then contribute to a wonderful community of kind and caring people. I loved my job at EMMC and worked very long hours, including nights and weekends, because I was so devoted to providing the best possible healthcare services to the people of Maine.”

The award of $1,500,000 for non-economic damages for Mr. Ako-Annan’s wrongful discharge is the largest award of that kind ever in Maine. In a landmark decision that will likely transform employment practices in central and northern Maine, the jury upheld Mr. Ako-Annan’s claim that he was subjected to negative stereotypes and implicit bias that led to his termination despite his excellent annual performance scores for five straight years. For example, in December 2018, he earned an overall performance score of 4.3 on scale of 0 to 5, with 5 being the best score; he also merited scores of “Very Competent or High Level” in all 16 categories on EMMC’s evaluation. He was replaced with a white employee with an overall performance score of 2.3.

Attorney Webbert explained to the jury: “The essence of Maine is that we are one big family where everyone is treated with respect and dignity and no one is more or less important. This case is critical to sending a message to EMMC that it must work harder to ensure the fair and equal treatment of workers who are Black or people of color. And it must listen when Black employees like David raise concerns about discriminatory treatment and live up to its written policies affirming racial diversity as a core value. Only if Maine has out the welcome mat for people of all colors to move here and bring their talents and strong work ethic, will our economy prosper and our children and grandchildren have the economic opportunities we want them to have.”

Attorneys David Webbert, Ryan Schmitz, Gillian Jones Gayle (member of the Bar of Jamaica with an application pending for the Maine Bar), Joe Guzzardo, and Sarah Austin of the law firm Johnson & Webbert, LLP, are proud and privileged to represent David Ako-Annan in this lawsuit. Johnson & Webbert is the largest workers’ rights and civil rights law firm in northern New England and has offices in Portland and Augusta.

Attorney Webbert stated, “We saw this case as so important to ensuring civil rights in Maine, that we had five lawyers working hard at the trial in Bangor and everyone at the Firm made significant contributions to this all hands on deck effort.” Attached are the verdict forms and a photo of Mr. Ako-Annan and his legal team in the courthouse after the verdict was delivered. 

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