PORTLAND – A jury has awarded a Buxton man more than $1 million in a discrimination case based on sexual orientation — the largest such award to date in Maine.

Edward Russell’s attorney, Guy Loranger, argued in Cumberland County Superior Court that his client was repeatedly passed up for promotion because he is gay. In late June, a jury agreed after hearing three days of evidence and deliberating for six hours.

The jury found that Russell’s former employer, Express Jet Airlines, had violated Maine’s Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation. Jurors awarded Russell $500,000 for emotional distress, $500,000 for punitive damages and $47,000 in lost wages.

Loranger said Tuesday that the judge will determine what award caps to apply; he speculated the overall award will be capped at $547,000, plus attorney’s fees and other costs. Attorneys for the company are arguing for a lower cap, Loranger said, and have said they would appeal.

Express Jet’s Vermont-based attorney could not be reached for comment, and the company’s media relations office did not return a call for comment.

Loranger said this is the largest sexual orientation discrimination award in Maine, a fact confirmed by John Gause, corporate counsel to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

“This guy was completely qualified to do the job,” Loranger said. “The jury said it didn’t matter his color, his race, his national origin or his sexual preference — he was qualified to do the job and you should have allowed him to do it.”

Express Jet Airlines operates regional jets for other airlines. It has been the regional operator for Continental Airlines at the Portland International Jetport, though that arrangement is coming to an end. Russell worked for Express Jet from 1998 until 2007.

According to court documents, the company faced a complaint in 2003-04 from three female employees who had unsuccessfully applied for an open supervisory job.

At the time, Express Jet managers at the jetport were all gay men. The women complained that the general manager at the time, who was gay, would hire only gay men.

The general manager lost his job, according to court documents. Over the next four years, that position became open four times. Russell filled in several times, and wanted the job, but was told by regional managers not to waste his time applying for it, the documents said.

“Our theory was they decided they did not want another gay man out there,” Loranger said.

At one point, according to the documents, the company hired a general manager whom a regional executive described as a “real man.” That general manager made disparaging comments about gay people at work, according to the complaint.

Russell left the job in 2007 “because of the discriminatory treatment,” court documents said.

According to Loranger, the new company that has the contract to handle regional flights for Continental from the jetport has hired Russell to be its general manager. 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]