Baltimore freed from complaint about age bias

October 02, 1990|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Baltimore's city government got free yesterday of a complaint that a job-cutting order seven years ago had led to illegal layoffs of older city workers.

Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to leave intact a lower court ruling saying that the city was immune to a claim for damages for alleged age bias on the job.

The justices thus rebuffed efforts by two laid-off workers, F. Mabel Baker and Howard C. Porter Jr., to revive their age discrimination complaint in federal court.

Both ex-employees had worked in the city's Real Estate Department. Ms. Baker, a 24-year employee, was 60 years old when her job was eliminated in 1983. Mr. Porter, a 23-year employee, was 64 years old at the time.

Both lost their jobs when a 5 percent across-the-board budget reduction was ordered for all city agencies, eliminating some 300 jobs. The head of the Real Estate Department, John Hentschel, had recommended the cuts within his department, and his and other department heads' proposals were approved by the city ** Board of Estimates and the City Council.

The two workers lost their challenge in February in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. The Circuit Court, noting that local lawmakers had immunity from legal claims for their legislative actions, said they could not be second-guessed in court over the reasons why they deleted certain jobs as part of the budget-cutting package.

That was the ruling left undisturbed by the Supreme Court's brief order yesterday in the case of Baker vs. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (No. 89-1842).

In another, unrelated action in a Baltimore case, the Supreme Court turned aside an appeal by Cecil Arnold Odom Jr., who also uses the name "Bud Kelly," claiming that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to put him on trial a second time in a case involving the murder of a federal criminal case witness.

While Odom, a South Baltimore appliance store owner, was attempting in the federal courts to stave off that second trial, the trial went ahead, and he was convicted last April of five charges for his role in a plot to murder Leon J. Vitkauskas of Baltimore to keep him from testifying in an armored car robbery case. Odom has since been sentenced to a life prison term, plus 10 years.

Originally, Odom was tried along with another accused man, Baltimore tavern order Victor Fincham. Three days into that trial, the judge split off Odom's case and ordered a new and separate trial for him.

Odom then contended that the new trial would violate his constitutional right against "double jeopardy." The 4th Circuit Court turned down that plea last October.

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