Former county workers sue over firings They dispute rationale for 1993 terminations

February 16, 1996|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

A group of former Baltimore County employees has filed suit in federal court, each seeking $1 million in damages from the county for terminating them three years ago to save money.

In the lawsuit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the 39 former employees said they were let go without "just cause or recourse," and that administrators used incorrect budget information in making the decision.

The employees were among those affected when then-County Executive Roger B. Hayden eliminated 566 county jobs and laid off 290 workers in Feb. 1993, in budget cuts that he said were forced by the recession.

Calling the firings "arbitrary and capricious," the suit claims "They knew that there was no budget deficit and that this rationale for the reduction in force was a pretext."

The employees claim the county had a $28.5 million surplus in its fiscal 1993 operating budget. The county saved $1.1 million through the layoffs, according to Janice Outen, a former county environmental protection manager who is a plaintiff.

People whose jobs were eliminated Feb. 11, 1993, were told to leave their offices immediately, though they were given severance pay and help in finding new jobs.

It is the latest of several lawsuits pursued by the fired employees. Merit employees filed a suit later that year asking the court to uphold the findings of a personnel board, which determined that the workers' rights to due process had been violated.

Another suit, filed by laid-off union workers at the same time in Baltimore County Circuit Court, eventually was thrown out when a judge ruled that the employees had not used a grievance procedure provided by their contract.

"This case is different -- we're saying the whole layoff was not legitimate because there was not a budget deficit," said Ms. Outen. "In order to be a layoff under the charter, there had to be a budget deficit."

County officials could not be reached for comment about the federal suit late yesterday.

Efforts to reach the employees' lawyer, J. Carroll Holzer, also were unsuccessful.

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