Updated 5:52 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody has called an allegation that he fired a former employee after she gave birth "outrageous." He is defending himself and his company, Moody Collision Centers, after a 12-year-old sex discrimination claim filed by a former employee resurfaced on Friday in a New York Times story.
The allegations were formalized in a 2006 sex discrimination complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission.
The accusations resurfaced less than a month before Election Day and threaten to darken Moody's prevailing campaign narrative that he was raised by a single mother, overcame a difficult childhood and went on to become a successful businessman.
Jill Hayward, who worked for Moody’s company for about three years, filed the discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission. She withdrew the complaint six months later after entering a settlement agreement with Moody’s Collision Centers, Inc., the chain of auto body repair shops that Moody founded as a teenager.
But Hayward renewed her allegations against Moody in a story published Friday by the New York Times. Hayward, who had previously not responded to requests by Maine press to tell her story, told the Times that Moody visited her apartment in November 2005 while she was on maternity leave. She said Moody then told her that she could no longer work for him because of her duties as a mother.
“My heart was in my throat or at my feet, and I’m looking at him like, ‘You’re kidding,’” she told the Times.
The Times report adds details to allegations made in Hayward’s complaint to the Human Rights Commission.
“Jill, I know you gave me 210 percent of yourself, but you won’t be able to do the job now that you have [your son],” Moody said, according to the complaint.
Moody’s campaign characterized the Times story as a hit piece designed to torpedo his bid for governor. The Maine Republican Party joined the pushback effort, labeling the report as a “desperate smear.”
“Let me just say this, and in the strongest way possible, I have always treated every coworker, employee with dignity and respect, always,” Moody said in a prepared press statement Friday morning. “It is just outrageous to even suggest my business does not have opportunities for women.”
The Times interviewed Moody for its story. However, the Gorham native declined to answer specific questions about Hayward’s allegations, including that he visited her apartment to terminate her employment. Instead, Moody has repeatedly said he cannot discuss what happened under the terms of the settlement agreement.
Brent Littlefield, Moody’s political consultant, also cited the settlement agreement when interviewed by Maine Public on Friday.
Moody's Collision Centers employs 200 workers, and Littlefield noted that the staff includes 25 women, with six in leadership positions. Among them, Littlefield said 18 women have children, and four were pregnant and gave birth while employed or are pregnant today.
Speaking to reporters at his Gorham company headquarters Friday afternoon, Moody said no one in his company has ever been let go for anything other than for performance-related issues. He also said that he is prohibited by a non-disclosure agreement from discussing details of the case, but he says his insurance company and the commission encouraged the outcome.
Maine Public has asked Moody’s campaign to provide a copy of the settlement agreement.
"When they get involved, they basically hire an attorney, and they work toward a settlement,” Moody said. “But, I will say it's clear in the Human Rights Commission, the way that they operate it says right in there it says that they encourage parties to settle. They want people to settle and move on."
Moody was required to respond to the complaint within 30 days, but his attorney requested an extension in late June. Moody’s attorney then notified the commission that it was attempting to reach a settlement agreement, an outcome often encouraged by commission compliance officers to preempt a ruling by the full commission.
Moody says he stands by his company's official designation as one of the "Best places to work in ME," and points out that Hayward's is the only complaint of its kind that has ever been brought against it. He said the company has never let anyone go for anything other than for performance-related issues.
On Friday, Moody’s campaign responded to Hayward’s interview in the Times by releasing videos and written statements from women employed by Moody’s Collision Centers.
Debbie Gale, who has worked with Moody for 20 years, said the allegations are ridiculous.
“It’s crazy, it’s not who Shawn is as a person.” Gale said in a statement, “It’s not true...women are respected here, men are respected here. If someone is no longer here it is because they have not done their job.”
Moody, citing the settlement agreement, has declined to provide his reason for firing Hayward.
Hayward told the Times that she was paid $20,000 for signing the agreement and terminating the discrimination complaint against Moody. She has never spoken publicly about the case until now, and has declined Maine reporters' requests for an interview.
Hayward’s complaint is the only one filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission involving Moody or his company, according to commission records.
Nonetheless, the allegations could be damaging to Moody’s campaign. The most recent polls show that the Republican is in a tight race with Democrat Janet Mills, while two independent candidates, Terry Hayes and Alan Caron, have struggled to gain momentum.
Mills is attempting to become Maine’s first woman elected governor. She is also attempting to harness women voters disenchanted by the election of President Donald Trump and empowered by the #metoo movement.
Mills’s campaign did not comment on the Times story on Friday. Neither did Caron nor Hayes.
Maine Public reporters Susan Sharon and Fred Bever contributed to this report.