Morgan aide told to pay damages

February 05, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

The former president of Alabama State University, who was recently hired as executive assistant to the president of Morgan State University in Baltimore, must pay $80,000 in damages for sexually harassing and assaulting a former subordinate.

A federal jury in Montgomery, Ala., returned the judgment yesterday against Leon Howard, agreeing that he had harassed and assaulted the Rev. Venus D. Longmire, who worked at Alabama State from 1987 to 1990 while Dr. Howard was president there.

Alabama State's board pressured Dr. Howard to resign in 1991 after Ms. Longmire made her charges public. Dr. Howard eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sending harassing communications -- cards, letters and phone calls -- to Ms. Longmire.

She later filed the civil suit that resulted in yesterday's judgment.

Last September, Dr. Howard was hired by Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson as a $70,000-a-year executive assistant. In an interview earlier this week, Dr. Richardson said he has known Dr. Howard for several years and was pleased to hire someone with his experience.

Dr. Richardson said he knew that a woman had brought charges against Dr. Howard in Alabama, but knew few of the details. "Dr. Howard said all these issues had been resolved, and I had no reason to doubt him," Dr. Richardson said.

He said he regarded Dr. Howard's troubles in Montgomery as "an Alabama State matter." He added that he believes such sexual harassment charges on college campuses are often politically motivated.

"I don't know the details," Dr. Richardson said. "It would be quite inappropriate for me as president of Morgan State to get into the middle of that."

He also said that he was pleased with Dr. Howard's performance as his chief assistant.

Neither Dr. Howard, who has consistently declined to discuss the case, nor Dr. Richardson could be reached for comment on the jury's award.

As executive assistant to the president, Dr. Howard handles a variety of tasks at Morgan, representing Dr. Richardson in dealings with administrators, faculty, students and board members. He does not set policy and oversees only a small secretarial staff, campus officials said.

Ms. Longmire, a minister at two rural African Methodist Episcopal churches outside Montgomery, served as residential life director and taught social work at Alabama State.

Her job was eliminated in 1990, several months after she filed a complaint against Dr. Howard with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In February 1991, Ms. Longmire made public her charges that Dr. Howard had sexually harassed her for more than a year and attempted to rape her.

A month later, Dr. Howard resigned under pressure from the Alabama State board.

Under terms of a "buyout," the board continued paying his $86,400 salary for a year after his resignation, according to an Alabama State attorney.

Local prosecutors, meanwhile, took Ms. Longmire's charges to a grand jury, and Dr. Howard was indicted on a charge of attempted rape in April 1991.

He pleaded guilty two months later to the much lesser charge of harassing communications, admitting that he had called Ms. Longmire and sent cards and letters to her. The attempted rape charge was dropped, and Dr. Howard was sentenced to six months of unsupervised probation and fined $300.

Ms. Longmire filed a civil suit against Dr. Howard and Alabama State in July 1991, accusing him of sexual harassment and battery. She accused the university and its chairman, Joe L. Reed, of firing her in retaliation for her charges.

The jury agreed and ordered Mr. Reed to pay her $250,000 in damages.

The panel also found Alabama State liable for unspecified damages that will be decided later by a judge.

Dr. Howard had filed a $2 million countersuit for slander and abuse of process, arguing that Ms. Longmire was trying to extort money. In its decision yesterday, the jury rejected his claims.

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