AUGUSTA — A human rights panel found Monday that there are reasonable grounds that a Clinton man whose job was terminated while he was on sick leave was a victim of disability discrimination.

Stephen Dostie had complained to the Maine Human Rights Commission that his termination from Associated Grocers of Maine Inc., of Gardiner, violated the Maine Human Rights Act.

Commission findings are not law but may become grounds for lawsuits.

Dostie worked for Associated Grocers from Feb. 25 to Sept. 10, 2008 — first as a bakery buyer, then as director of the grocery, dairy and frozen-food procurement department.

The company said Dostie’s job was eliminated by budget cuts and because company officials he was too sick to work.

The company hired a private investigator, who reported seeing Dostie doing normal activities and driving his car while on sick leave, according to attorney John B. Cole, who represented Associated Grocers at Monday’s hearing.

Cole said the company provided a legitimate reason — financial exigency — for terminating Dostie’s job. This saved the company about $75,451, according to a report by commission investigator Angela Tizon.

“Dostie was out of work on paid sick leave for three weeks in August 2008 with what he believed at the time to be symptoms of Crohn’s diseases, but which he later discovered were due to his bipolar disorder,” Tizon wrote.

Dostie requested short-term disability paperwork on Sept. 7 and Sept. 9, 2008, and got a letter Sept. 10, 2008, saying his job was eliminated

Tizun concluded that Dostie’s disability “was a likely factor in the company’s decision to eliminate his position” and that “they doubted his commitment to the company while out sick, based on his failure to respond to important e-mails.”

Cole said Dostie failed to respond to e-mails from the company president seeking budget input.

Cole said Dostie had an obligation to respond to the e-mail even if all Dostie said was he couldn’t help. The commissioners voted 5-0 to find reasonable grounds that Dostie was a victim of disability discrimination and that conciliation efforts should begin.