State settles bias lawsuit 23 black DNR officers to share $150,000 from 1994 complaint

November 30, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,SUN STAFF

A group of black officers with the Maryland Natural Resources Police won a $210,000 settlement from the state yesterday after alleging that senior officials engaged in a long-standing practice of racial discrimination.

The Board of Public Works approved the payment after being told that, given past practices, the state could have lost much more had the suit gone to trial.

"Our [financial] exposure was great," said Ronald N. Young, deputy secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, who was appointed to his post this year. "The exposure was far greater than this settlement."

The settlement -- which marks the second time in 10 years that black officers have successfully sued the department -- is the product of a 1994 lawsuit in which top department officials were accused of racial discrimination, retaliation and fostering a hostile work environment.

Defendants included the department, former Secretary Torrey C. Brown, former Natural Resources Police Superintendent Franklin I. Wood and other top-ranking police officers.

Most of the settlement, $150,000, is to be divided among 23 members of a group called the Black Officers' Association, two of whom no longer work for the department. The $60,000 balance will go to pay attorney fees.

Natural Resources officials also agreed to implement procedures designed to guarantee that all officers are treated equally and fairly in the future. Twenty-seven blacks are on the 210-member force.

Elliott Andalman, a Takoma Park lawyer representing the black officers, said those who complained about incidents of discrimination were brought up on internal disciplinary charges in retaliation.

"Several of the black officers who had charges brought against them ultimately were found not guilty," he said. "But they had to go through quite an ordeal, a career-threatening ordeal."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, angered that he and members of the board have been asked several times in recent months to approve financial settlements in cases alleging sexual or racial discrimination by state employees, said incidents of discriminatory behavior must be stopped.

"Everyone must understand -- and not just this department, but every department -- the very, very strong commitment we have against any kind of discriminatory practice," he said.

The money for such settlements, he said, not only comes out of the pockets of taxpayers, but is money that cannot be used for the government programs for which it was intended. Mr. Glendening said he is considering introducing legislation that would hold individuals who are guilty of discriminatory acts personally liable.

The settlement was reached after more than 100 hours of negotiations led by a U.S. Justice Department mediator and involving Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin, Mr. Young, and new Natural Resources Police Superintendent John W. Rhodes.

Although the Black Officers' Association and the Board of Public Works have approved the settlement, Mr. Andalman said it still must be approved by the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Once approval is received, the agreement calls for Mr. Andalman and his co-counsel to determine how much each of the 23 officers will receive.

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