Education officials deny that gender bias was factor in promotion

January 28, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Margaret A. Payne said her chances of getting the promotion she sought in 1991 were doomed from the start because her employers, the Carroll County School Board, discriminate against women, according to testimony in Carroll Circuit Court yesterday.

In the second day of trial on Ms. Payne's $1.5 million discrimination suit, several top school officials were called to rebut that allegation.

Ms. Payne, 43, a 15-year employee of the school system, was among three men and five women interviewed in April 1991 for two openings as personnel specialist, a central office job. She was not chosen for either position.

Ms. Payne claims that one of the people promoted -- 10-year guidance counselor Stephen Guthrie --was less qualified than she.

Mr. Guthrie holds a bachelor's degree in secondary education and a master's degree in guidance counseling. In contrast, the suit says, Ms. Payne, holds bachelor's and master's degrees in education and a master of business administration degree in personnel and industrial relations.

School officials have denied that Ms. Payne, who is a marketing teacher and department chairwoman at Westminster High School, was passed over because of her sex.

Board attorney Edmund J. O'Meally declined to comment on the trial yesterday. He said last year that the suit was unfounded.

"She applied for a position, and, unfortunately for her, two more-qualified people were hired," Mr. O'Meally said last July.

The other job went to Penny Post, who formerly worked with the state Department of Education and was an art teacher for six years.

William Rooney, the personnel director who supervised the job search and formed a committee to conduct the interviews, testified for more than an hour yesterday about how the two positions were filled.

He said that the sex of an applicant is irrelevant in the hiring process but admitted that he chose an all-male selection committee even though 45 female principals and administrators were among those eligible to serve on it.

Mr. Rooney also was asked whether he and the committee used objective measures to rank the job candidates.

"With this level of a position, we did not use a rating system. We're looking at behaviors," Mr. Rooney said in response to questions from Ms. Payne's attorney, Jeff Griffith.

Ms. Payne's qualifications fit the job description perfectly, Mr. Rooney conceded.

But, he said, "In personnel, you have to be a team player. Her interview style would come across as threatening. She has to show a little more empathy and compassion."

Mr. Griffith asked Mr. Rooney about notes he made during Ms. Payne's interview by the committee. Those notes call the applicant "aggressive," too "text-book" and not a good team player. Mr. Rooney's notes are central of Ms. Payne's lawsuit.

"I wrote that her interview style was aggressive, perhaps too aggressive," Mr. Rooney testified. "I would have said to her, 'Peggy, tone this down a little.' "

Mr. Rooney also read a notation in which he said Ms. Payne "talked too much and used a machine gun approach" in her interview.

In the suit, filed last July in Carroll Circuit Court, Ms. Payne said the notes showed evidence of unfair stereotypes. Where men are allowed to be aggressive, the suit suggests, women are required to be more subtle.

She has been "wrongfully damaged by the imposition of the non-job related employment standard of feminine stereotypical personality traits," the suit says.

Ms. Payne originally filed two complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found no basis for discrimination in both of them.

In addition to testimony from Mr. Rooney, the six-member civil jury has heard from Ms. Payne; her daughter; Peter McDowell, director of secondary schools; and William Hyde, assistant superintendent of administration.

Superintendent Edward Shilling was expected to testify today.

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