Civil rights suit filed against Howard Co.

November 29, 1991|By Michael J. Clark

The Justice Department is suing Howard County government, claiming that it denied a woman park attendant a promotion and then forced her to resign because she complained about being sexually harassed.

The first civil rights suit filed against Howard County by the Justice Department alleges that the county's parks and recreation department failed or refused to "take appropriate action to remedy the effects of the discriminatory treatment" of Susan Ricketts. She filed the sexual harassment allegation in early 1987.

F. Todd Taylor, Jr., an assistant Howard County solicitor, said the county investigated Ms. Ricketts' allegation and that "we found no evidence to corroborate any of her complaints."

Ms. Ricketts is a Woodbine resident who left the attendant job in 1987 to work a 42-week clerical job with the county's recreation and parks department. She had no comment yesterday on the civil rights complaint.

Mr. Taylor said Ms. Ricketts, who had been with the county since RTC December 1982, alleged that she had been mailed a pornographic picture enclosed in a Department of Recreation and Parks envelope with an unflattering note on it.

The county's attorney also said Ms. Ricketts has contended that co-worker repeatedly asked her for a date despite her frequent refusals and that a co-worker made a comment about the size of her breasts without being reprimanded.

Mr. Taylor said the explicit picture of a couple involved in a sexual act was "found in the trash can at Cedar Lane Park by Ms. Ricketts, who showed it to other employees and laughed about it" before it was mailed to her with an unflattering note.

The county lawyer also described a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation as biased. He said the agency "refused to cooperate with us or conciliate the matter. It is an example of government run amok and is a pure case of harassment by them. We have to fight it."

"In our view, EEOC did not look at it with an eye toward conciliation . . .. It took what she said and did not look further and refused the evidence we submitted to them," Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Taylor said Ms. Ricketts had been employed previously as a park attendant, but left in 1987 to go over to the recreation side as a clerk renting out pavilions in the county parks.

The assistant county solicitor denied the suit's allegations that she was "forced to resign" her parks job, saying she "has been continuously employed with Parks and Recreation and was never fired or forced to resign."

The case is being heard by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Walter E. Black, Jr., but no trial date has been set yet.

Amy Casner, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said she had no comment on the pending litigation.

Margaret I. Fernandez, a spokeswoman for the EEOC, said she cannot discuss any pending investigation "because it is confidential under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Once we find that there is cause to believe discrimination occurred and are unable to conciliate, we refer these cases to the Department of Justice's Office of Civil Rights, which litigates against state and local governments."

She said the EEOC "thoroughly investigates each case, and the determinations are reviewed by supervisors and the director of the office, as well as by our attorneys. We are mandated to conciliate, but once we believe discrimination occurred we will not accept anything less than full relief for the victim."

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