Woman awarded $26,000 in back pay in discrimination case

August 02, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

The Howard County Human Rights Commission has awarded a 48-year-old Spanish-American woman more than $26,000 in back pay from her former employer, saying she was wrongly fired because of her national origin.

The commission ordered the 19 months of back pay to be paid to Carmen Keggins, a native of Spain who came to America when she was 15 years old. A three-member panel found 2-1 that she "experienced repeated personal ridicule" by the apartment manager at Allstate Management Corp.'s Great Oaks Apartments in Ellicott City, who continually teased her about her accent.

The commission found that the manager, Debra Hale, who has since resigned, disliked foreigners and got upset at Ms. Keggins for continuing to rent apartments to foreign and minority applicants, according to its report.

Ms. Keggins, whose last listed address was Laurel and who is a naturalized citizen, could not be reached for comment.

Allstate Management Corp., which no longer runs Great Oaks, has refused to pay the back wages and is appealing the decision in Circuit Court. The company's lawyer, Michael B. Green, said Ms. Keggins was let go because of a personality conflict with the manager and other problems.

"Her being fired had nothing to do with her national origin," he said. "She was let go because there was a problem in the office [with] the co-worker. It got to the point where something had to give. She and her manager did not get along."

But the commission's report found this reason to be a pretext because other co-workers who also had personality conflicts with the manager were neither fired nor reprimanded. And the report found that Ms. Keggins was never warned that she might be fired and never given the chance to rectify the problem.

Mr. Green said Allstate offered to transfer Ms. Keggins to another location in northern Baltimore County before she was fired, but that Ms. Keggins refused the offer because it was too far away.

The commission's report, however, found the evidence was "too ambiguous" to determine that an offer was ever made.

"Even if it was a bad decision to have let her go, and I'm not saying it was, it had nothing to do with her national origin," Mr. Green said. "Something had to give in the office. These two people couldn't work together."

Mr. Green said Ms. Keggins' allegations were hard to believe because she never complained about them during her employment. It was only after she was fired that she brought up allegations of national origin discrimination, he said.

Roger Jones, a member of the human rights panel, said there was a preponderance of the evidence that Ms. Keggins was discriminated against. "There was nothing Allstate could prove against Ms. Keggins at testing she was a poor employee," he said. "It was just the opposite. They had never written one statement against her in her record."

According to the commission's report, Ms. Keggins was hired in April 1990 as a $7-an-hour rental agent at the Great Oaks apartment complex and received a promotion to assistant manager the next year, with a $1-an-hour raise. Her troubles began when the manager who hired her left in August 1990 and was replaced by Ms. Hale, whom co-workers testified was moody and difficult to get along with.

Ms. Keggins was fired in November 1991 after she reportedly told a tenant Ms. Hale had a drug and alcohol problem and after she mentioned to Ms. Hale's superiors that she could do a better job because she got along with employees, the commission's report said.

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