Black Caucus hits racism in Maryland government

October 26, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus released a draft report yesterday calling racism a prevalent problem in state government and saying it had identified 138 "blatant" cases of employee discrimination.

The result of nine months of inquiries into hundreds of complaints, the report cites at least 10 examples in which the caucus says people were punished or denied promotions because of race or sex.

In the 40-page report, the caucus also criticized the under-representation of blacks and females in the state's management ranks. At the Mass Transit Administration, for instance, whites made up more than 85 percent of high-ranking officials and administrators as of last summer, the report says.

"While not realizing the full magnitude of the problems, our [suspicions] were confirmed that racist and discriminatory acts were consistently occurring throughout state government," a summary of the report states. The caucus, which includes 31 legislators, pledged yesterday to push in the General Assembly next year two bills that would protect employees from reprisals if they complained about racial discrimination. The legislators also called for Maryland's next governor to fight discrimination and criticized the current one for not making it a bigger priority.

"The governor has not acted vigorously in this area," said Sen. Decatur W. Trotter, a Prince George's Democrat.

Buddy Roogow, director of operations for the state's executive branch, disagreed. He pointed out that Gov. William Donald Schaefer is working to create a Division of Fair Employment Practices that he hopes will be a part of the next gubernatorial administration. The division would centralize enforcement of employment law and provide advice and training to state agencies.

"This governor has never varied from the course of condemning any discriminatory activity . . . and has strongly directed his department heads that this does not occur," Mr. Roogow said.

Noting that Maryland's government employs more than 60,000 people, Mr. Roogow said "there are probably some that certainly exhibit discriminatory behavior."

"We do our best to address that when we're aware of it through sensitivity training, cultural awareness training and, if necessary, disciplinary action, including dismissal."

The report puts a human face on discrimination. It tells the story of a boiler room engineer at the University of Baltimore who said he was passed over for promotion five times in favor of whites during 12 years. The man filed a formal complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations in late April. Eight days later, he got the promotion, the report says.

An employee with the state Division of Correction told how a white officer who provided the wrong identification number for a prisoner received no punishment, while a black officer who did the same was suspended from work.

The report's committee chairman, Baltimore state Sen. Larry Young, said the draft was released before its completion so that outgoing caucus chairman, Del. John D. Jeffries, a Baltimore Democrat, could cite it as an accomplishment before he steps down Nov. 15. The caucus expects to release a final draft in June, 1995.

Mr. Young said the timing of the draft report's release was not political. The caucus members run in largely Democratic districts where the races were generally decided in the September primary.

The report grew out of a series of hearings that began in February when the caucus invited state employees to air their grievances. Mr. Young said the caucus has already heard 500 to 600 complaints and still has not held hearings on the Eastern Shore.

Caucus official Sharon B. Williams said the group weeded out about two-thirds of the cases because complainants failed to provide documentation. The caucus then investigated about 200 cases by interviewing people on both sides of the disputes and came up with the 138 examples.

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