State police, black troopers settle bias lawsuit

January 04, 1991|By Jay Apperson Jay Apperson is a reporter for the Anne Arundel County Sun, a suburban edition of The Sun.

A $45 million discrimination lawsuit filed almost six years ago by a group of black state troopers has been settled for less than $1 million. But a predominantly white labor organization representing most troopers is weighing a challenge to the agreement.

The settlement, the product of more than five years of talks between attorneys for the state and the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers Inc., outlines a five-year timetable for increasing to 22 percent black representation in ranks up through first sergeant.

It also calls for more blacks at higher ranks -- for example, a black major in five years and a lieutenant colonel in seven -- and outlines $900,000 in cash settlements.

Calling the agreement fair, attorneys for the state and the black troopers emphasized that it outlines goals -- not quotas.

But Joe Pruitt, first vice president of the Maryland Troopers Association, said, "It is being viewed as a quota by the majority of people I've talked to."

Officials in the Maryland Troopers Association said they represent 93 percent of the state troopers, but that they cannot provide a racial breakdown of the group. The state police work force is 19 percent black, said Raymond Grissett, head of the 250-member coalition of black troopers.

George Snyder Jr., an association attorney, said the settlement may have "the effect of creating quotas." Lawyers are researching the ramifications -- and the possibility of a court challenge, he said.

Mr. Snyder said attempts to comply with the goals would lead to a more subjective promotional system. He said troopers would view some minorities who received promotions as being undeserving.

Such resentment has surfaced since the settlement was agreed, Mr. Grissett said. "A number of incidents have been brought to my attention that could be considered discriminatory," he said.

The state police agency historically has been plagued by charges of racial bias and favoritism in promotions. The agency's highest-ranking blacks are two captains.

In April 1985, the coalition of black state troopers and nine individual officers filed a $45.5 million class action suit charging the agency with discriminating against blacks in hiring, promotions and discipline. Under a consent decree filed Dec. 21 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the state will pay $95,000 to the black troopers coalition, $275,000 toward attorneys' fees, and more than 50 black troopers will receive cash settlements ranging from $2,000 to $115,000. Seven troopers will be promoted one rank.

The decree sets hiring goals for the state police designed to create an overall work force that is 22 percent black. Twenty-five percent of the entry level hires would be black. Interim goals are established to increase to 22 percent black representation in the higher ranks.

Under a Dec. 17 order signed by U.S. District Judge John Raymond Hargrove Sr., members of the state police have 60 days to contest the agreement.

The troopers association is polling its members on whether to challenge the consent decree.

The agency is also facing a challenge by white male troopers who, claiming reverse discrimination, are asking a federal judge to declare the agency's promotion system illegal. In the class action suit, filed last March, 17 white male troopers contend they were passed over for promotion in favor of black and female troopers who scored lower on promotion tests.

Bruce Harrison, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 76 and a plaintiff in the reverse discrimination suit, said eight white male troopers filed a complaint Wednesday with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming they were discriminated against in promotions in 1990.

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