Sexual discrimination suit settled Ex-police officer, Balto. Co. agree to terms.

November 27, 1991|By Raymond L. Sanchez | Raymond L. Sanchez,Evening Sun Staff

A former Baltimore County policewoman has reached a $245,000 settlement in a federal suit alleging sexual discrimination and harassment by her superiors.

Anne Noell Fiedler, 34, a former recruiter in the employment/affirmative action division, will be reinstated as a police officer, according to settlement papers approved last night by U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Howard.

Although Fiedler will remain on the police payroll, making about $30,000 a year, she will work as an insurance claims investigator for the county.

"She just lost all faith in the ability of the Police Department to protect her," said Fiedler's attorney, Kathleen M. Cahill.

The alleged harassment involved the former commander of the county's police affirmative action program, which was established to increase the recruitment of women and minorities and investigate discrimination on the force.

The defendants -- the county, the Police Department and three supervisory officers -- denied liability under the terms of the settlement.

Baltimore County Attorney H. Emslie Parks said today the county wanted to avoid the costs of prolonged litigation. "It's better to put this whole thing behind us," he said.

Fiedler was not available for comment, but her attorney said officials need to be held accountable for their actions.

"I hope this case has sent a message to the Police Department so that women, minorities and those who speak up regarding wrongdoing or discrimination may be treated more fairly in the future," Cahill said.

Court papers detailed numerous examples of sexual harassment within a division created 12 years ago after a suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department against Baltimore County for discriminating against women and minorities.

"That this occurred in the affirmative action division . . . is astonishing," Cahill said.

Parks said county Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan knows of the past problems in the affirmative action program. "I know that he is going to do something about it," Parks said, without being specific.

The alleged harassment began in June 1989, when Fiedler was processing a female job applicant for a physical exam. Several officers made suggestive remarks about the applicant's body. When Fiedler ordered the men to stop, Detective Steve Deboy pointed to his groin and made an obscene comment, the suit said.

Deboy was transferred from the division after Fiedler's complaint prompted an investigation. But, the suit said, Deboy's transfer angered Fiedler's supervisor, Sgt. William Unkle, who told other officers that "no one should talk to her."

Fiedler was shunned by co-workers. The suit said Unkle later told her women should not be police officers "because they get their period."

Fiedler reported the harassment to Capt. Robert Frame, the division commander, but he did nothing, according to the suit. Frame has retired and now works for the Miami Beach Police Department.

Frame and Unkle, still a supervisor in the affirmative action division, were cleared after an internal affairs investigation into the treatment of Fiedler and others. But Fiedler was hit with a misconduct charge for making a hand gesture at an officer -- an act, she said, made in jest.

Fiedler also accused Frame of trying to kiss her during a conversation in August 1990 -- an allegation he denied in court papers.

The suit also named Col. Jerry L. Blevins, who oversaw the employment/affirmative action division, saying he "failed to properly investigate and take action against those constitutional violations and misconduct."

Fiedler resigned in November 1990, saying life on the job had become unbearable. She filed suit the next month and took a $5-an-hour job as a receptionist in a nursing home.

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