Talbot County charged with racism ACLU suit says roads officals discriminate against black workers.

October 18, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has filed a discrimination suit against Talbot County, claiming that county roads officials have engaged in "an unbroken pattern of racial discrimination, segregation and harassment" against blacks since the department was created in 1987.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, says County Manager Blenda W. Armistead investigated racial complaints from three black employees last year and created a monitoring system to halt racial slurs that were routinely aimed at them.

But, the suit says, the harassment -- much of it from Roads Superintendent Wilson Tull and foreman Harold Kraegenbrink -- continued and escalated throughout much of 1991, in part because Tull was the person Armistead ordered to deal with complaints.

ACLU staff attorney Deborah A. Jeon yesterday decried "supervisors demeaning black employees with [racial] epithets" and said such behavior was "unacceptable in Mississippi in 1961 and surely should not be allowed to go on in Maryland in 1991."

The ACLU filed suit, Jeon said, because "in the past year things have gotten worse, the segregation continues, the slurs continue and nothing she [Armistead] did has stopped the discrimination."

Armistead and other county officials who are defendants in the suit were not available for comment.

The civil suit, replete with examples of racial epithets used by the supervisors and other county roads employees, charges violations of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

The ACLU is asking the court to enjoin Tull and Kraegenbrink from further racial discrimination by desegregating county road crews, ordering procedures to prevent racial harassment, creating a grievance procedure for discrimination complaints, establishing non-discriminatory overtime procedures, developing an affirmative action plan and awarding the plaintiffs unspecified damages.

Plaintiffs are Ronnie Stanford, Carlet Stanford and Kim James Gibson, all laborers or equipment operators on the roads crews, which the suit says are segregated by race in the 17-member department.

The suit says the plaintiffs have suffered repeated racial abuse from whites in the department, and have been denied promotions, overtime and training because they are black.

Tull, the suit says, has endorsed the abuse by failing to stop it. Tull is accused of using racial slurs during conversations with Ronnie Stanford, and giving Stanford a poor performance evaluation after Stanford filed complaints with the human rights agencies.

The suit also accuses Kraegenbrink of "open hostility" toward black employees, including one instance at an employees' picnic in 1989, at which he allegedly "humiliated" black families by announcing that he wanted the event segregated.

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