Panel hears allegations of cable company bias BALTIMORE CITY

January 12, 1993|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

A supervisor at United Cable of Baltimore motivated his sales staff by telling them "black people would buy cable before they put food and bread on the table," according to testimony yesterday in a discrimination hearing for a former United sales representative.

The comments by the supervisor, who is white, contributed to racial tension that permeated the sales force, said Louis Beverly, a former United salesman who is accusing the city's cable television franchisee of racial discrimination. In his complaint, Mr. Beverly, who is black, charged that his supervisors gave him sales territories based on his race, and that one of them fostered "a racially intimidating and oppressive work environment" by constantly making racist remarks.

Mr. Beverly said the supervisor claimed that he was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan and that the supervisor made derogatory remarks about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "I never had run across somebody who used so many racial [references] in the first couple of days of employment," Mr. Beverly testified.

In a hearing held by the city's Community Relations Commission, the city's anti-discrimination agency, Mr. Beverly said he was fired after complaining about the racial comments -- both inside United and to the NAACP and the CRC.

After graduating from the University of Baltimore, Mr. Beverly, 33, worked for United for six months in 1987, going door-to-door urging people to to buy cable television service as the cable system was being built.

Married and the father of two, he is now an occupational therapist working for the state.

Craig F. Ballew, a lawyer for United, said Mr. Beverly was fired after repeated warnings for not producing enough sales, failing to do paperwork and for poaching on the territories of other salespeople, most of whom were black. He also said there is no evidence of racist remarks being made by Mr. Beverly's supervisor.

In 1988, a CRC investigator determined that there was no factual basis for Mr. Beverly's complaint. But Mr. Beverly appealed and the finding was overturned by a hearing examiner after an October 1988 hearing. The case finally wound its way to a public hearing, which began yesterday and is expected to continue through the week. If he wins the case, Mr. Beverly could be entitled to monetary damages from United.

"We have half the staff we did in 1988, so things are moving a lot slower," said one CRC staff member.

Lawyers expect the hearing to include testimony from 26 witnesses, most of them past and present employees of United.

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