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Bangor Daily News (Maine)

 

A Bath man who sued Bath Iron Works alleging the company illegally fired him for continuing to coach basketball at Morse High School while on medical leave from the shipyard has settled his case.

Brian Bennett, a planning tech at BIW and head boys basketball coach at Morse High School, filed suit in February in U.S. District Court against the company, which is owned by General Dynamics, charging the shipyard with violating the Maine Human Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Bennett said by phone Wednesday that he could confirm a settlement had been reached "in principle," but could not comment further until it had been signed.

BIW spokesman David Hench did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bennett argued that BIW illegally fired him after he took medical leave in 2016 for treatment of bipolar disorder at the recommendation of his psychiatrist. The company accused him of fraud and "job abandonment" after a private investigator found he continued to coach basketball during his leave from BIW.

Bennett's psychiatrist recommended he continue coaching to prevent a symptom of bipolar disorder, social isolation, according to court files.

The company said in its response to a Maine Human Rights Commission complaint filed by Bennett that it "is not the standard in the medical community" to determine that Bennett was unable to work at BIW but was able to continue coaching.

Bennett's suit sought a jury trial and asked for back pay, lost future earnings, compensatory and punitive damages, and that Bennett be reinstated in his job.

It also asked that the jury require BIW to mail a letter to each of its 6,000 employees informing them of the verdict, that the company post notices of the verdict in workplaces, and that a ruling enjoinder BIW from future acts that the suit alleges were illegal.

In a written statement in June, a shipyard spokesman said, "Mr. Bennett represented to BIW that he lacked any capacity to continue his job as a fabrication planner, but at the same time continued to work in a paid position as a high school varsity basketball coach. BIW ultimately declined to excuse Mr. Bennett's absences from work, based on his demonstrated capacity to work."

The shipyard's statement noted that "employment decisions are guided by federal and state law, as well as the collective bargaining agreements covering those employees, like Mr. Bennett, who are represented by a union. Mr. Bennett was treated in compliance with the law and the applicable collective bargaining agreement."

In a response filed in court, BIW lead attorney Ernest J. Babcock said Bennett's claims are without merit, and denies, among other allegations, that Bennett "sought social isolation because of his illness." The company admits in the filing to hiring a private investigator "to investigate its good faith suspicion that [Bennett] had misused the leave of absence."

On Friday, attorneys notified the court that a settlement had been reached and the case would be dismissed, according to court documents.

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