Bethlehem Steel Corp. police department officers traded job favors for sex from female employees, according to a federal sex discrimination suit filed by a guard who claims she was fired for threatening to expose the practice.
The suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore alleges that the chief of the Sparrows Point police force and a lieutenant did not enforce discipline against several female security guards with whom they were intimately involved, while penalizing employees who complained.
"It was wrong what was going on . . . I had to do what I had to do to change it," said Sharren Garland of Edgemere who brought the suit after working 14 months at the steel complex as a security guard.
Bethlehem Steel and Burns International Investigative Services, the contractor that employed Ms. Garland and most of the complex's security force, denied the charges and said their investigations had found no basis for the complaint.
According to Ms. Garland's lawsuit, female security personnel who were inexcusably absent, who reported to work intoxicated or who used drugs off the job were not disciplined because of their alleged intimate involvement with supervisors.
Two women even received an extra 40 hours pay a week because of their links to Police Chief Wesley T. Harper and Lt. Joseph F. Rogers, according to John S. Singleton, the attorney who filed the suit.
Ms. Garland said she was fired as a security guard last September, a week after she allegedly promised to take her complaints of sexual favoritism to higher authorities. The company said she was dismissed for failing to report for duty.
Two other employees were fired earlier last year after they complained about the sexual favoritism in the department, Ms. Garland said. Like her, they filed sex discrimination complaints with the Maryland Human Relations Commission.
Burns International employees work under the direct supervision of Bethlehem Steel police supervisors. Bethlehem has 13 police officers; Burns International has between 50 and 70 employees at the Baltimore County site, plant spokesman Ted Baldwin said.
"I was told to keep my mouth shut or I would be down the road [fired]," she said. But Ms. Garland said the lack of uniform discipline for favored employees undermined the department's ability and staff morale.
After making repeated complaints to her Burns supervisor and to Mr. Harper, Ms. Garland said she threatened in September to go over their heads. A week later, she was terminated.
In the suit, she seeks back pay and reinstatement to her job. The suit also claims that all security personnel at Bethlehem have been harmed by the alleged practice of sexual favoritism and seeks an injunction barring the companies from future discrimination.
Mr. Harper and Mr. Rogers could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Stephen E. Atkins, senior attorney for Burns International, said his company "has a very strong policy in force that deals with sex discrimination." An internal investigation found "no basis for any allegations of sex discrimination with respect to Ms. Garland or any other employee there," he said.
Mr. Baldwin said a Bethlehem investigation produced "no basis for believing that the plaintiff has been discriminated against or harassed in any way by any Bethlehem Steel employee."
Ms. Garland said the security supervisors did not solicit sexual favors from her and did not officially reprimand her after complaints about the preferential treatment of certain female employees.
But, the suit alleges, the security supervisors established "a pattern and practice of sexual discrimination in unequally enforcing their disciplinary policies in favor of employees who granted the employers sexual favors and against other employees who threatened to expose and who rebuffed the discrimination and harassment."