Human rights panel is asked to reconsider decision on firing Racial bias cited by social worker

May 17, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Ruth Edwards, a former executive director of Citizens Against Spousal Assault, has asked the Howard County Human Rights Commission to reconsider its decision that her 1990 firing was not racially motivated.

Ms. Edwards has also appealed the commission's decision to the Circuit Court.

A panel of three Human Rights Commissioners ruled last month that Ms. Edwards failed to prove that she was fired because she is black.

"The panel is not in a position to consider whether or not the treatment [of Ms. Edwards] was fair," the commissioners said in their April 13 decision.

The only question before them was whether the termination "was racially motivated and illegal," the panel said.

The panel said Ms. Edwards did establish a case based on race -- that she was qualified for her job and her job performance was satisfactory, that she was terminated from her employment, and that a white employee was hired and assigned to perform her duties -- but that was not enough.

She did not prove her firing was based on sexual or racial discrimination, the panel said.

Ms. Edwards says in a 17-page motion asking the panel to reconsider its decision that she presented the evidence, but the commissioners failed to consider it.

The commissioners "substantially parrot the brief testimony of Mr. James Kraft," the board chairman who fired Ms. Edwards, "and summarily dismissed the detailed, comprehensive and substantial testimony" that she and others offered on her behalf, Ms. Edwards said.

Ms. Edwards worked as a volunteer from 1978 to 1983 and served as executive director of the organization from June 30, 1985, until April 2, 1990, when she was fired by a 10-3 vote of the 17-member Board of Directors. Four board members were absent at the time of the vote.

In their findings of fact, the commissioners observed that during her tenure as executive director, Ms. Edwards "demonstrated a high degree of loyalty and dedication to the cause of [the organization], often devoting 60 to 80 hours per week of her time attending to the needs of abused women."

The commissioners also noted that the organization "grew tremendously" under Ms. Edwards' leadership from a small group helping a few battered spouses to one that had become "a model for the state of Maryland."

Problems arose, the commissioners said in their decision, when Mr. Kraft told Ms. Edwards he wanted the organization to become more professional. Grant applications were sometimes late and were not of the highest quality, the commissioners said.

Ms. Edwards said no evidence to support Mr. Kraft's allegations was presented at her hearing. On the contrary, she testified that under her direction, grant money increased tenfold -- from $77,474 in 1979 to $787,949 at the time of her firing, she said.

She characterized Mr. Kraft's testimony that he would "fire her ass" if her performance was not up to his expectations as "sexual and racial abusiveness . . . tolerated and condoned by the Human Rights Commission."

The commission said Ms. Edwards failed to keep a daily log of her activities in the manner requested by the organization's personnel committee in February 1990, that she failed to give employees raises when asked, and that she left town on an emergency without notifying Mr. Kraft or other officials, causing a "disruption" in the organization's operations.

Ms. Edwards said the commission ignored testimony that she had left a note in a board member's door saying her mother was ill and she would have to leave town.

Ms. Edwards also contended that "the alleged late grants, failure to give raises and logs were mentioned only by a clique" of three board members that included Mr. Kraft. "There was no testimony that a single grant was ever denied" the organization due to lateness, she said.

The commissioners appear to have given no weight to testimony of a board member that "the issue of late grants was only mentioned after the termination in an attempt to diffuse the situation," Ms. Edwards said.

It will be up to the panel of commissioners who heard the case to determine whether to reconsider it. The panel conducted 11 nights of hearings starting Sept. 28, 1992, and ending Feb. 25.

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