Three black employees of the Talbot County Roads Department filed suit in Baltimore federal court yesterday alleging that their supervisors routinely called them demeaning names, segregated them, denied them promotions and excluded them from overtime work solely because of their race.
The suit, prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, contends that white supervisors routinely discriminated against the department's black employees and often used racial epithets such as "nigger" and "jigaboo" when talking to them.
The three plaintiffs, who ask the federal court to order the behavior stopped, also seek monetary compensation in an amount to be determined by a jury for the discrimination they say they have suffered.
Named by the suit as defendants are the Talbot County Council, County Manager Blenda Armistead, roads superintendent Wilson Tull and road foreman Harold Kraegenbrink.
Contacted last night, Mr. Kraegenbrink denied the charges.
"As far as I am concerned, there is no problem. There is no problem at the work site. I have worked with black men and we don't have any problem. I don't know where this suit came from," he said.
Members of the County Council, Ms. Armistead and Mr. Tull could not immediately be reached for comment.
"We're talking about racial discrimination in Talbot County government," said Deborah A. Jeon, the ACLU attorney. "These practices were unacceptable in 1961 Mississippi and surely should not be allowed to go on in 1991 Maryland."
The plaintiffs are Ronnie Stanford, who was hired in October 1987 when the county Roads Department was created, and Carlet Stanford and Ken Gibson, who joined the department in July 1988.
The suit claims that the department has discriminated against its black employees since its creation, when two crews were established -- one that was all black with the exception of the supervisor and the other one all white.
"The road crews in the county are segregated because the supervisor of one crew requested an all-white crew," said Ms. Jeon. "He also has constantly harassed the other crew, calling the supervisor a 'nigger-lover.' "
Mr. Kraegenbrink, supervisor of the white crew, said, "That is just untrue. Ronnie Stanford requested a transfer because he was getting poison ivy. Ken Gibson asked for a transfer." He added that both men worked with him this summer.
The suit alleges that the white road crew, with four workers and a foreman, is given the "plum" assignments such as snow removal, grass cutting and tree trimming while the black crew, with a white supervisor, must do the dirtier work of patching and paving roads.
When crews are needed to work overtime, the white crew receives the work, according to the suit. "There has been a real disparity in the amount of pay the crews have received," Ms. Jeon said.
She said that the Talbot County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People brought the situation to the attention of the Talbot County Council last year, and the council referred the matter to County Manager Blenda Armistead for study.
After several months, she reported that there was no problem, according to Ms. Jeon. Ms. Jeon said the two agencies are investigating the complaints.