Woman deputy files bias lawsuit against sheriff

June 08, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Claiming an 11-year pattern of discrimination, harassment and retribution, Carroll County's only female black deputy is suing the county sheriff and several aides for more than $2.5 million.

In a 126-page lawsuit that last week was moved from Baltimore City to Carroll Circuit Court, Lucita A. Matthews claims Sheriff John H. Brown and several top officers tried to intimidate and embarrass her because of her "race and gender."

The suit says that because of her race and gender, she had trouble getting hired, and since has found it daunting to be promoted. When she finally was promoted from deputy first class to corporal -- after numerous complaints to the Maryland Commission on Human Relations -- she was the target of numerous "bogus" internal investigations, subjected to unusually close scrutiny on the job and shunned by many colleagues, the suit says.

And, in the years after her promotion to corporal, she has been demoted to deputy first class, taken a cut in salary and is in danger of losing her certification as a police officer.

"The really scary thing is that what this suit indicates is an utter contempt for the law exhibited by those people we rely on to enforce the law," said Glen M. Fallin, the Carroll County attorney representing Ms. Matthews. "She has desperately needed somebody to tell them to stop, to cease in this incredible repetition of bogus disciplinary actions against her, to stop this horrific prospect of being punished."

Ms. Matthews, 35, continues to work in the department as a correctional officer and is paid about $30,000 a year, Mr. Fallin said. She had lived in Carroll County for nearly 20 years but moved to Baltimore County four years ago because, the suit says, she feared reprisals from deputies. Through Mr. Fallin, she has declined to comment.

Sheriff Brown also declined to talk about the lawsuit, on behalf of himself and Deputies Charles F. Fowler, John W. Stultz, Earl Steven Turvin and Mark L. Peregoy. He said he stands by the way the department is run but did not elaborate.

Judith Bernstein Gaeta, the lawyer representing the sheriff and his deputies, could not be reached.

Ms. Matthews grew up in Taneytown and worked for six years at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville before she applied for a job with the sheriff's department in 1984.

At the time, she was the most qualified applicant in a field that included six white males, according to the lawsuit. All of the men were hired before she was offered employment six months later, the suit says.

Since then, the suit says, Ms. Matthews has endured a virtually endless campaign of racism.

The suit points to a half-dozen internal investigations, two of which resulted in administrative charges and lost days of work. Most of the investigations, the lawsuit says, were instigated on accusations of inmates, who claimed to have overheard disparaging remarks about fellow correctional officers.

The suit also points to incidents in which she was passed over for promotion in favor of white men who had less seniority and experience.

When she was ordered to attend a police academy in Prince George's County, the department refused to reimburse her for the $3,300 she spent in hotel and living expenses.

When she finally was promoted to corporal, the department demurred in providing her with the necessary training to take the job, the suit says.

Ms. Matthews had to take her case to the Maryland Commission on Human Relations before the sheriff or his top aides would promote her, the suit says. By going to the commission -- which found probable cause to believe Ms. Matthews was being discriminated against -- Ms. Matthews further angered department leaders, according to the suit.

Although Ms. Matthews and the sheriff's department signed a confidential agreement that called for adverse treatment to end, the discrimination continued, the suit says. And, because the commission failed to pursue the sheriff department's violation of the confidential agreement, it also was responsible for Ms. Matthews' subsequent treatment, the suit says. The commission a defendant in the suit.

The suit says Ms. Matthews also was singled out for harsh disciplinary treatment because of her complaints to the commission.

Ms. Matthews was suspended for two days without pay after a fender-bender in which she was not cited, and was demoted after she refused to report to work during a blizzard, even though she had several weeks of accumulated vacation and sick time, the suit says.

Ms. Matthews is seeking $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages, a promotion, additional pay and an injunction against the department prohibiting it from engaging in "further discrimination."

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