The Maryland Troopers Association went to court yesterday, asking a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge to stop the imminent layoffs of 83 troopers and accusing the state of age discrimination in its plan to meet a $450 million deficit.
But in a brief appearance before Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr., attorneys for the state and for the troopers agreed to wait a day in hopes that the General Assembly and Gov. William Donald Schaefer can find other ways to balance the budget.
If the layoffs are still pending tomorrow morning, Judge Murphy will hear the troopers' arguments that the state violated their rights and that he should block the layoffs until the suit has been decided.
The suit charges that the state and its Board of Public Works acted illegally in planning to close two state police barracks, lay off 83 troopers on Nov. 1 and reduce medevac helicopter service. It was filed by the troopers association and by Sgt. Lawrence G. Morse Jr. of the major violations unit and 1st Sgt. Steven F. Rutzebeck of the crime prevention unit.
The plaintiffs contend the proposed cuts will harm the public welfare and violate a state-mandated 25 percent limit to reductions in a single program.
The suit also alleges that the proposed terminations ignore seniority requirements, because "while the . . . reductions are purported to close entire programs and barracks, several officers at the affected barracks and programs were not laid off, but were transferred to other positions within the Maryland State Police."
"Each of the officers who were transferred rather than laid off are below the age of 40 and have very few seniority points [while] 26 of the 80 officers laid off are above the age of 40," the suit says.
This allegation was echoed in a copy of a complaint, filed yesterday by Sergeant Morse with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and alleging violations of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, that was attached to the lawsuit.
In Annapolis last night, the House of Delegates and the Senate agreed on a plan to present to Governor Schaefer that would eliminate some of the reductions he proposes -- including the state police layoffs. The troopers' jobs would be restored by making other cuts within the state police budget, such as money for overtime, clothing and spare parts for helicopters.
Raymond C. Feldmann, assistant press secretary for the governor, said he couldn't comment on the suit, but expressed hope that "by tomorrow, the whole suit could be moot if the legislature presents the governor with a scheme he could live with."