ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's capital has become the first jurisdiction in the state to adopt its own sexual harassment law, sending a stern message to employers that intimidating behavior in the workplace will not be tolerated.
In Annapolis, sexual harassment is now a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The city council last night overwhelmingly approved the legislation that strengthens workplace rules and closes a loophole in federal and state laws.
"I just want to make sure we start somewhere to stop sexual harassment, at least in this city," said Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins.
Alderman Carl O. Snowden introduced the bill last November, a month after Anita Hill riveted the nation's attention on the issue by testifying that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. The proposed law was reviewed by two council committees and revised four times to clarify its definitions of sexual harassment and improper behavior.
Business leaders opposed the proposal on the grounds that penalties were already adequately covered under the Civil Rights Act passed by Congress last year. The Annapolis Chamber of Commerce also said disgruntled workers could use the law to attack their employers.
Mr. Snowden, a Democrat who represents the city's 5th Ward, said the law was needed, however, "not because it's chic or fashionable" but to provide a speedier recourse for victims of harassment.
Without the Annapolis law, employees who have been subjected to unwanted sexual gestures can file complaints with the Maryland Human Relations Commission. But they often must wait for a long fact-finding review before they can take their case to court, acknowledges Jennifer Burdick, the agency's executive director.
Annapolis' new law also provides protection for employees of small businesses. The previously existing process covers only people who work for companies with at least 15 employees.
Alderwoman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8, called the new law "on the cutting edge in changing human behavior" and said she hoped it would "serve as a model within the state." A similar statute has been on the books in Milwaukee since 1982, Mr. Snowden said.
The three women on the council co-sponsored the bill. Mayor Hopkins said he was uncertain in this age of changing standards whether even a kiss on the cheek or banter with a young woman could be deemed sexual harassment. But he said he figured the three alderwomen "know more about it than I do."
Ms. Burdick testified in favor of the law at a hearing in February, as did representative of women's groups and representatives of a half-dozen city agencies.
The YWCA has agreed to team up with the Chamber of Commerce to begin training seminars on the new law. Similar business workshops are becoming increasingly common across the nation in the fallout from the Hill/Thomas controversy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also charted a sharp increase in harassment complaints since the congressional hearings.