SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Shawn Moody has made his difficult upbringing and success in business the twin pillars of his campaign to become Maine’s next governor, boasting in commercials, debates and speeches about how he built his automobile repair stores from scratch after he was raised by a single mother.
“I would put my record up against anyone about knowing how to grow a successful business,” said Moody, the Republican nominee in one of the country’s most competitive races for governor.
But for Jill Hayward, herself a single mother, there is nothing quite as painful as seeing Moody appear on television recounting how he overcame childhood hardship to make Moody’s Collision Centers into a multimillion-dollar regional powerhouse.
In 2006, Hayward, a former member of management at a Moody’s store, filed a sexual discrimination complaint against Moody with the Maine Human Rights Commission, accusing him of firing her because he did not think she was up to the job after giving birth to her son. “I want to see you grow,” he told her, according to the previously undisclosed complaint, but with her new parental obligations, “I’m not sure that you can do that in this job.” Moody ultimately settled the complaint and, she said, paid her around $20,000.
“Any time he comes on, I turn it off because it’ll make me teary,” Hayward said in an interview.
In a separate interview, Moody repeatedly cited the settlement to indicate he was restricted from addressing Hayward’s accusations.
“I’m not going to say the details of what was finalized, but we reached an agreement,” he said. “The allegation was withdrawn and it was resolved.”
But Moody did say he had faced no other such complaints in 40 years running his own business; commission records indicate there were no other complaints against him. And he pointed to industry accolades his company had received, while noting that around 25 out of his 200 employees were women in what is a male-dominated industry.
“I just have to rest on our track record, our reputation in the community,” he said, arguing that he had led “a very compassionate, well-run organization.”
Moody has made his reputation and character a part of the campaign because of how much he leans on his biography in his race against Janet Mills, the Democratic state attorney general. Opinion polls show a tight contest to succeed the pugnacious term-limited governor, Paul LePage, whose lieutenants are guiding Moody’s campaign.
And to be competitive, Moody is drawing on his fortune earned from his repair stores in cities like Biddeford and Scarborough.
It was in those two Portland-area Moody’s shops where Hayward worked a few years after graduating from college. By her late 20s she was an expediter, spending more than two years coordinating with vendors and processing orders. Hayward said she received no written complaints from her superiors and earned a raise during her time there. (Moody would not address Hayward’s work history.)
It was a collegial environment and she gave as good as she got from “my boys,” as she called her co-workers. They ribbed her about the oil spill pads laying around the shop, joking that she could use those in case her water broke when she was pregnant. But Hayward said her colleagues were also tender: Two of them helped build her crib, and they chipped in to get her a gift card from Walmart as a baby shower gift.
But shortly after she gave birth to her son, she said, Moody sent her life into a tailspin from which she only emerged after more than a decade. As Hayward sees it, he fired her because he did not think she could do the job as a single mother.
Sharing her story with a reporter for the first time, Hayward, 44, said that in November 2005 Moody visited her apartment while she was on maternity leave after having an emergency C-section. As she sat feeding a bottle to her weeks-old son, her boss explained to her that she could no longer work for him because of her duties as a mother, she said.
“My heart was in my throat or at my feet, and I’m looking at him like, ‘You’re kidding,’” said Hayward, who remembered “bawling” as it became clear there was nothing she could say to keep her job.
Moody, again citing the settlement he reached, did not directly answer when asked if he visited her at her apartment and fired her. But he said that his company had a multistep process on terminations and that multiple people were involved in such decisions, which take place at the store where the employee in question worked.
In the 2006 complaint filed to the human rights commission, and obtained by The New York Times, Hayward made the same claims she leveled in the interview and said she was replaced by a man. She accused Moody of sexual discrimination in violation of state and federal law and listed a series of comments he made upon firing her.
“You are no longer going to be able to do the job in Biddeford now that you have” your son, Moody told her, according to the complaint.
According to publicly available documents on file with the human rights commission, which enforces Maine’s anti-discrimination laws, Hayward and Moody eventually agreed to a settlement and Hayward agreed to withdraw the complaint.
A former counsel for the commission, John P. Gause, said he could not speak specifically about the case. But Gause said the panel generally encouraged parties to settle disputes and avoid protracted wrangling in court.
Asked why he did not fight the claim, Moody suggested he harbored some regret for not doing so.
“That is a great question,” he said. “If you know how proud of an individual I am about how we do treat people, you’re absolutely right.” But, he said, his insurance company handled his side of the case and it was “kind of out of our hands.”
In the interview, Hayward said Moody paid her around $20,000 as part of their settlement, $3,000 of which went to her attorney.
But that was not until October 2006, nearly a year after she lost her job, Hayward recounted. She would eventually lose her apartment and her car.
“How do you dispose of a single mother when that’s your claim to fame in your campaign?” she asked in her thick Maine accent over pumpkin spice lattes at a Starbucks here, as her son, who turned 13 on Tuesday, sat eating a cookie just out of earshot.
In interviews, Hayward’s mother, brother and a one-time colleague of hers at Moody’s business, who asked to remain anonymous, separately corroborated her recollection of events.
Two current Moody’s employees, whose names were shared by his campaign, said they could not speak to the case itself but added that they were stunned that Moody was accused of mistreatment.
“We have women who work in this company who have had children, we have women who are pregnant now,” said Debra Gale, who has worked in Moody’s Gorham store for 20 years. “They are not discriminated against whatsoever.”
As for Hayward, Gale only pointed out that she had changed store locations and gently said: “I don’t feel we ever found a proper fit for her.”
Hayward, who described herself as a Republican and a supporter of President Donald Trump, said she had no political motivation in speaking out and was “scared” about reprisals from Moody. After being contacted by a reporter on Facebook, she agreed to discuss her story over the phone on an off-the-record basis. At the end of that conversation, she said she wanted to go public.She said she wanted to encourage other women and viewed her disclosure as a necessary part of the healing process from a difficult period in her life.
“If I were to ever be able to say anything to him, it is that, I don’t know if you realized that day how much you shaped someone’s life,” she said. “You shamed somebody for becoming a mother. And I had already been through a ton.”
The summer before she lost her job, Hayward helped win a conviction of her then-boyfriend, the father of her son, on felony charges related to his assaulting her. He was incarcerated for 18 months and she has not seen him since.
After Moody fired her, Hayward said she called her brother, Joshua Hayward, who lived in Portland and had a finance and real estate company. He quickly connected her with a prominent New England law firm, Bernstein Shur.
Hayward retained an employment law attorney there, Louis Butterfield. But once Moody found out she had hired a lawyer, Hayward said, he was furious.
“Shawn went to his office ballistic,” Hayward said, recalling that Butterfield asked him to leave because he could not discuss the case. “He called me and was like, ‘I’ve never had this happen to me in my entire life,’” she said of Butterfield. (The lawyer died in 2010.)
Moody, citing the agreement, would not say if he visited Butterfield at his office.
After losing her job, Hayward became desperate, struggling with working and taking care of her son. Without a place to live or a vehicle, she moved back in with her family in northern Maine.
Hayward has since earned a teaching certificate, and she returned with her son to the Portland area where she is now a special education instructor.
Hayward said she wants to make the best of her experience. She has jotted down notes in hopes of publishing a children’s book that could empower young women. The title she has in mind: “Girls, don’t lose your voice.”