Head of the Class?

March 23, 1992

Baltimore County, not a past trend setter in job discrimination protection, might leap ahead of the pack. The county's Human Relations Commission is drafting legislation that would allow people discriminated against on the job due to sex or race to collect back pay plus a limited amount (possibly up to $50,000) to compensate, say, for the loss of a car or home while they were without a job. No locality in the state provides for compensatory damages in such cases; several, including Baltimore City and Howard County, do provide for reinstatement of back pay, which Baltimore County does not.

The normally conservative Hayden administration apparently sees merit in the workplace compensation proposal, which may be ready in a month or so for the county council's consideration.

The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas case last fall did much to sensitize the public to workplace discrimination. Since then, the federal government has passed civil rights legislation strengthening the remedies for people found to have suffered racial or sexual discrimination or workplace harassment. The General Assembly is also in the midst of considering a bill to increase Maryland's penalties for discrimination, although pressure from the business community might spike it.

The value of the proposal is that it would provide a more rapid remedy for proven cases of discrimination than at the state or federal levels, where cases drag on for years. The legislation would also encourage employers to resolve cases since delays could build further damage costs.

About a third of the 1,800 cases brought annually to the state Human Relations Commission originate in Baltimore County. Yet efforts to outlaw discrimination have often met a tortured end in Towson. It is commendable that Baltimore County now seems ready to put teeth into its current law.

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