More than one-third of all legal action pending against the city of Annapolis involves charges of racial or sexual job discrimination, a report from the city attorney's office shows.
Six of 17 cases pending against the city are complaints filed with the state Human Relations Commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
City Attorney Jonathan Hodgson said he has seen an increase in discrimination cases in recent years, but said the high percentage of such cases was the result of recent settlements in other kinds of lawsuits. Hodgson's office settled 29 cases in the last two years, seven of which involved charges of racial or sexual discrimination.
"There's very little litigation going on in other categories," Hodgson said. "I don't think six cases is an unusual number for a municipality the size of ours, with over 300 employees and a budget of more than $30 million. Although we would like to have no complaints, we have to recognize the world in which we live, where problems have to be worked out."
Hodgson gave the figures to city aldermen to support the need for a part-time assistant city attorney, as proposed by Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins. But the City Council's finance and rules committees didn't see the need for the position, probably killing the proposal for this year.
The six discrimination cases against the city are: * Charles Simms, a black housing inspector who claims he was reprimanded for alleging there was racial discrimination in the Inspections and Permits Department.
* Joseph T. Mitchell, a black city bus driver who claims he was discriminated against when he was fired by the Transportation Department.
* Teresa M. Benedetti, who claims she was denied disability retirement from the Fire Department because she is female.
* Raymond G. Hofmann, who claims he was discriminated against because he is white and was asked to resign from the Police Department.
* Zora Lykken, who claims she was denied promotions in the Police Department because she is female.
* John Downs Jr., who claims he was denied a promotion because of race. No other details were available on the case.
Hodgson said as far as he knows, the city hasn't lost a discrimination case in the five years he's been city attorney. In a memo to aldermen, he expressed confidence the city would win the six cases that are pending.
Hodgson said he has seen an increase in such cases in the last few years. "There has been a trend lately for employees who believe they are victims of discrimination by their employers to take their cases to the Human Relations Commission," he said. "That's what it's there for."
The federal and state commissions make findings in discrimination cases. If the commissions find a basis for the charges, the findings can make it easier for a plaintiff to proceed with a lawsuit.
The Hopkins administration had pushed for the assistant attorney's position to fill in when Hodgson is out of the office on business. But after both committees voted against it, City Administrator Michael Mallinoff said Hopkins will probably withdraw the proposal.
The assistant attorney would have been paid from the city's budget for outside legal help. Among the expenditures in its 1990 budget, the city paid $8,360 to attorney Douglas Hollmann, who presented the city's case against Sgt. Robert E. Beans to a police department trial board. The board dismissed charges that Beans broke departmental rules, and charges against a second officer, Chandler Powell, were subsequently dropped.
Alderman John R. Hammond, R-Ward 1, chairman of the finance committee, said the committee voted against the assistant attorney because members thought the city could continue to hire a backup for Hodgson with the money budgeted for outside legal help. The city has paid $35,000 to attorney Gary Elson during the last three years to help out Hodgson.
The rules committee opposed the position for similar reasons, said the committee's chairman, Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5.
Hodgson said in a memo to aldermen that the list of lawsuits and money spent was not complete. The capital budget and community development block grants also include money for legal fees, and the list of legal action against the city does not include claims against the city's self-insurance fund that are not yet lawsuits.
The other lawsuits pending against the city include: Chesapeake Marine Tours, which sued the city and four other defendants for $220,000 in damages for an electrical fire that destroyed one of its boats at Annapolis Landing Marina; six lawsuits ranging from $8,500 to $500,000, filed by people who were injured on city buses or sidewalks; a woman who claims the police department fired her for injuries received on the job; and a man who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit charging police brutality after he was arrested for assaulting a police officer following a traffic stop.