Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden has introduced legislation that would allow Circuit Court judges to assess fines of up to $1,000 against people convicted of sexual harassment, or their employers if they knowingly allowed the harassment.
Snowden, who introduced the measure last night in the Annapolis City Council, said it would be the first such legislation in the state.
The measure also would allow a judge to impose damages, Snowden, a Democrat, said.
"No one should be required to put up with harassment or have to sleep with an employer just to keep a job," he said.
Currently, Snowden said, victims of harassment receive some protection from the Maryland Human Relations Commission and under the Civil Rights Act passed by Congress this year.
"This legislation wouldn't preclude [victims] from pursuing any of those other routes," Snowden said. "This would allow them to take their charges to court on the fast track without the bureaucracy. This would allow them to speed up the process and have their day in court."
Snowden said victims of harassment now must file a complaint and wait for a fact-finding review in their favor before a justice agency or a victim may take the case to court.
A similar statute has been on the books in Milwaukee since 1982, Snowden said.
"I gave a lot of thought to the best way to handle this for our city," Snowden said. "I felt it was better to have a judiciary than an administrative review. I don't think a politician or a city council should be deciding this type of complaint."
But City Attorney Jonathan Hodgson said he had "some concerns" about the bill's legality that will require further research.
Snowden's bill, in its present form, essentially would create a new right for Annapolis residents to sue for damages, a right that residents outside the city's border who are served by the same civil courts do not have.
Alderman John Hammond, R-Ward 1, was concerned that new, stricter sexual harassment standards could hurt businesses in Annapolis.
"It has an impact on employers, and we have to look at this economically and ask the question, 'Are we putting Annapolis employers at a disadvantage?,' " Hammond said, "and 'Is somebody looking for an office going to say that's one more strike against Annapolis and go someplace else?' "
Hammond said those reservations were why he requested that the measure be forwarded to the Economic Matters Committee for review.
Alderman Ruth Gray, R-Ward 4, said the bill "catches onto the issue of the hour." She said that while she saw no crying need for the legislation, she could see no reason not to pass it.
The legislation comes on the heels of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill controversy and a sexual misconduct scandal in Annapolis involving on-duty firefighters and police officers. Two firefighters were fired earlier this month for their roles in the incident. Two police officers and two other firefighters were given 30-day suspensions. A fire battalion chief who allegedly knew of the misconduct and allowed it to continue also was fired.