A supervisor in Metro's rail car maintenance shop was fired yesterday for allegedly asking a foreman to recruit a group of white employees tobeat up five black workers who had complained about racial discrimination in the shop.
That conversation, according to several maintenance shop employees, allegedly included a suggestion of burning a cross to intimidate the five workers.
Dianna Rosborough, a spokeswoman for the Mass Transit Administration, declined to identify the employee or confirm the reason for hisfiring. She said state personnel law permitted her only to confirm that the person worked in the rail car shop and was terminated as a result of an investigation into "serious" charges.
"There were some serious allegations that demanded our immediate attention and we immediately began an investigation to determine if those allegations were true," Ms. Rosborough said. "As a result of these investigations, an employee has been fired."
The shop workers who say they were the target of the alleged intimidation identified the fired MTA worker as James B. DeLung, who was employed as the shop's supervisor of routine and periodic maintenance.
Ms. Rosborough confirmed that Mr. DeLung, who is white, no longer is employed by the state agency.
Mr. DeLung could not be reached for comment last night. Sources familiar with the investigation said he has denied the charges.
According to the shop employees, the incident took place last Thursday and was reported to MTA Administrator Ronald J. Hartman by the white foreman who allegedly had been instructed to arrange the beating.
MTA officials said they recognize that the shop needs to improve its record of promoting minority employees. They said they will continue to investigate ways to improve that situation.
"I believe, in general, our race relations are good," Mr. Hartman said. "But if there's anything there, we want to get at it. There's no room for discrimination."
Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer announced yesterday that he has ordered an independent investigation of possible discriminatory practices at the maintenance shop. The probe will run concurrently with MTA's internal investigation and will be headed by Ruth R. Webbon, director of the department's Minority Business Enterprise/Equal Opportunity Office.
"We want to send a message that we won't tolerate any form of racial discrimination," Mr. Lighthizer said. "If something is amiss elsewhere [in the MTA], we'll look at that, too. Someone has pointed out racial misconduct, and we're going to take it to wherever it leads."
The issue is a sensitive one for the MTA, which has a high percentage of black employees, many of them working in lower-paid, blue-collar positions.
More than 70 percent of the agency's 2,750 employees are minorities, but only 21 percent of its professionals, administrators and other officials are members of minority groups.
The Metro rail car maintenance shop employs 115 people, 42 of whom are minorities, including 37 men and women who are black, officials said. The shop, located near the intersection of Northern Parkway and Wabash Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, is responsible for the maintenance, repair, storage and cleaning of Metro subway cars.
The five shop workers said the incident probably was motivated by the complaints they voiced to Mr. Hartman about the difficulty blacks in the shop have had in obtaining management positions. Those complaints included a charge that the supervisor may have tampered with tests that are used to qualify workers for promotions.
In a May 21 memorandum to the five employees, who call themselves the Metro Rights Committee, Mr. Hartman promised to "fully investigate any allegations of discrimination" and noted that he was "embarrassed that these issues were allowed to slip from the high priority I assigned them."
Wilson Wallace of Woodlawn, an electronics technician and committee member, said he was pleased by the MTA's decision to fire Mr. DeLung, though "I don't like to see this happen to anyone."
"They had to do it. They upheld the man for a long time and thehad to do it," Mr. Wallace said.
"Hopefully, we can sit down and talk about some things we'd likto see take place for the overall improvement of the shop. We think it goes further to all the shops on the MTA system."
Mr. DeLung may appeal his firing within 30 days to a committee of six employees appointed by Mr. Hartman, who has final say on the appeal, according to an MTA personnel policy handbook.