Job agency sued, accused of 'bubbly blonde' bias ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY Fired worker is said to balk at practice

January 30, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A federal lawsuit contends that a temporary employment agency discriminated against black job-seekers to please employers who indicated that only a "bubbly blonde" need apply for jobs at their companies.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland yesterday filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, asking that Uniforce Temporary Services of Towson be ordered to stop referring job-seekers on the basis of race.

Claiming that a former Uniforce employee was fired for refusing to go along with the company's discriminatory practices, the suit asks for reinstatement of Mary K. Spence of Fort Meade. Ms. Spence, who is white, is a former personnel coordinator at Uniforce's Glen Burnie office.

The suit also requests that Uniforce cease penalizing employees who refuse to follow illegal employment practices and train its employees not to discriminate.

The court action seeks compensatory and punitive damages that were not specified.

The lawsuit charges Uniforce with three counts of violating federal laws prohibiting racial discrimination. Also listed as defendants are Uniforce Services Inc. of New Hyde Park, N.Y.; DAR and Associates Inc. of Bel Air; and Wilson S. Davis Jr. of Fallston, Md. Mr. Davis is a Uniforce official.

"We are not openly discussing that at this point," Mr. Davis said when asked about the lawsuit.

Uniforce has offices in Baltimore, Edgewood, Glen Burnie and Towson.

"We hope this case sends a message to all temp agencies that honoring a customer company's preference for a particular race is illegal," said Susan Goering, legal director of the ACLU of Maryland.

Ms. Goering said some employers express their preferences for white employees "with a wink and a nod," and that she believes Uniforce is not alone in succumbing to pressure to discriminate.

"I have very little doubt that other employment agencies are equally under pressure to satisfy their customers' requests," she said. "We just want to make sure they know the law does not permit discrimination in any shape or form."

According to court papers, Ms. Spence was working for Uniforce in May 1991 when she referred a black woman for a long-term receptionist position at the Baltimore-Washington Auto Exchange. On her first day, the woman was sent home.

Ms. Spence asked a Uniforce account executive if the woman could return to the Baltimore-Washington Auto Exchange. The account executive replied that the client wanted a "bubbly blonde" woman to work with the car dealers at an auction, court papers say.

Joann Miller, a Baltimore-Washington Auto Exchange official, said yesterday that she could not recall the incident. "We go through anywhere from 100 to 400 temps" in a three-year period. She would not say how many of the temporary employees were black.

Also in May 1991, the same account executive told Ms. Spence not to send any blacks to interview for a position at another company. Ms. Spence complied, falsely telling a black job-seeker that the position had been filled, court papers say.

Angry and distraught about having followed orders, court papers say, Ms. Spence confronted her superior. The account executive replied that Uniforce always tells its clients that it is an equal-opportunity employer, but that it has to give clients what they want, the suit says.

The account executive advised her to screen black applicants over the phone by listening carefully to the callers' voices, the suit says.

In another incident, Ms. Spence allegedly was told by a different Uniforce official that a client was "really picky" about candidates for a clerk-typist, and not to send a black person. Uniforce sent only white candidates to the company, court papers say.

When that position later reopened, Ms. Spence and another Uniforce personnel coordinator agreed that a Venezuelan woman was the best candidate -- but she had a dark complexion, court papers say.

The personnel coordinator was told to call the client and explain that the applicant was Venezuelan, the complaint says.

When Ms. Spence complained, the suit says, Mr. Davis told her "that if the clients want the 'all-American, blonde hair, blue eyes,' then Uniforce gives it to them."

Ms. Spence was fired in June 1991, the suit says.

Ms. Spence, 34, who said she now runs her own small business, said yesterday that she would be willing to return to Uniforce should it change its hiring practices.

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