Something Fishy In Bias Case ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

January 28, 1993

It's impossible to tell who's the bad guy in the case of the corrections officer versus county government. She is a black woman who claims discrimination kept her out of a job as a sheriff's deputy; the county says she wasn't qualified.

There's something fishy on both sides, and it looks as if the courts will have to sort it out. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has suggested the county give Maxine Brown the position with back pay. The county refuses.

County attorneys are ready to go to court, and they are so confident one has to believe they're prepared to prove her lack of qualifications.

On the other hand, the basic facts contained in the EEOC's ruling make us raise our eyebrows.

Ms. Brown was turned down on the basis of a psychological test that showed she is "defensive" and a background check that turned up problems. Yet the sheriff's department has since hired two applicants -- neither of them black women -- whose psychological tests showed the potential for alcohol abuse and authority problems in one case and disciplinary problems in the other.

Weigh the potential for alcohol abuse and insuordination against "defensiveness" -- whatever that means -- and it's difficult to justify Ms. Brown's rejection. To deflate the appearance of unfairness, county officials need to explain exactly how her defensiveness made her a poor candidate and what her problems were, but personnel laws prevent them from doing that.

If anything makes us question the validity of Ms. Brown's claim, it is the demographics of the county work force. True, there are no black female deputies. But the sheriff's office is nonetheless a varied group, with black male and white female deputies, a black female court security officer and an Asian-American female clerk. It's difficult to see the county refusing to hire a black woman deputy, especially since Director of Personnel Donald Tynes is black himself.

This much is clear: If Ms. Brown has, in fact, been victimized, the fault does not lie with Sheriff Robert Pepersack. It was the personnel office that nixed her application, eliminating her from the list of finalists submitted to the sheriff.

They -- and the public they represent -- have a lot to lose should the courts find that action justified.

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