State settles suits by 3 troopers who alleged sexual harassment

June 02, 1995|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,Sun Staff Writer

The state attorney general's office has settled a string of sexual harassment lawsuits filed by three troopers against the bTC Maryland State Police in a deal that does not admit any wrongdoing but could wind up costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The settlement, approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works yesterday, was negotiated after months of legal wrangling and amid a federal civil rights investigation into claims of sexual harassment and discrimination on the 1,591-member state police force.

The troopers said yesterday that they were pleased their cases were over. But they also said they were furious that none of the police officers named as defendants in their suits had been held accountable.

"I was disappointed by the lack of legitimate investigation by the attorney general's office into the merits of the case," said former Sgt. Sherry Bosley, who claimed she was the target of sexual harassment.

"Their focus, instead, was on defending what they obviously knew was wrong, and viciously attacking me and anyone else who stood up for what was right."

Still, the troopers said the settlement and the fallout from their cases should make the mostly male department a better place for women working their way through the ranks.

"I don't think they have taken care of the problem," said Trooper Susan Smith, who claimed she was retaliated against after alleging that she had been harassed by one her bosses. "But I think they are starting to address the problem."

A lawyer for the attorney general's office, which defended the state police, said she was delighted the cases were over. She said the office properly investigated the claims of harassment and retaliation.

"We spoke to every witness they identified and every witness we could identify," said Assistant Attorney General Betty Sconion. "We could not find any witness to support any of the allegations that the plaintiffs were making."

The settlement was worked out during secret mediation sessions at the USF&G center in Mount Washington on May 16 and 17 and was made public yesterday when details of the deal surfaced at the Board of Public Works -- which must pass judgment on all settlements costing the state more than $2,000.

The three troopers closed out their cases with different deals.

Ms. Bosley, 40, a one-time "Trooper of Year" and a gambling expert for the agency, claimed she was subjected to repeated harassment, rude jokes and rumors about her fidelity. The state will pay her $190,000 and granted her a job-related disability pension, giving her close to $28,000 every year -- tax-free -- for the rest of her life.

If Ms. Bosley lives to be 81, as would be expected given her current age, the pension would be worth more than $1 million.

After paying her legal and medical bills, Ms. Bosley said, she will be left with little from the cash settlement. But she believes the disability pension is an admission by the state that she was injured by the behavior of her former male colleagues.

"This was never about money," Ms. Bosley said. "With all of the changes that have happened since we filed our suits, it's going to be easier for other women at the state police."

Trooper Smith, 29, an undercover drug officer, claimed that she was subjected to crude remarks and jokes and unwanted sexual advances by one of her supervisors. She said the agency retaliated against her when she complained, giving her a series of poor work evaluations and denying her a promotion.

The state will pay Ms. Smith $2,000. The agency agreed to remove the poor evaluations from her personnel file and granted her a transfer to the criminal investigations unit at the North East barracks, a 10-minute drive from her home. She had been commuting to an assignment 72 miles away.

"I don't think I got justice," Trooper Smith said yesterday. "They spent more time trying to drag me through the mud than address the problems and the people who were responsible. But I think what I did was good for women. I just think [it] was bad for my career. Now, I just want to do my job."

Sgt. William Harden, 45, claimed he was retaliated against after he reported crude remarks a state police supervisor allegedly made during a conversation about Ms. Bosley. He said the state wanted to close his case with a cash settlement, but he refused. Instead, the state will pay his $2,000 legal bill.

"The state just wanted to pay it off instead of making sure this thing doesn't happen again and holding someone accountable," Sergeant Harden said. "But I'm relieved it's over. We brought attention to the problem. There are some positive things that came out of this."

The settlement follows reports in The Sun in October that described widespread harassment problems at the agency, ranging from crude jokes and threats and advances that bordered on criminal assault.

The decision to settle the cases was made two months after the U.S. Justice Department announced that it had launched an investigation to determine if the rights of state police employees were being violated by a practice of harassment and discrimination at the agency. That investigation is continuing.

Last month, state police Superintendent David B. Mitchell announced a new policy to address sexual harassment at the agency and said he would hire an outside consultant to review how the agency handles complaints and develop a training programs for employees.

Kathleen Cahill, the attorney for the troopers, said yesterday her clients should be proud of the changes.

"The courage of these people in speaking out about a tremendously serious problem -- all the more serious when found in the state's law enforcement agency -- has been the catalyst for the most substantial pressure to eradicate bias in government employment that I can recall in a long time," Ms. Cahill said.

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