Lawyer sues Baltimore Co., alleging race, sex discrimination She says she was denied job as assistant attorney

March 20, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

A black female lawyer from Baltimore has sued Baltimore County, alleging that she was denied a job as an assistant attorney for the county because of her race and gender.

According to the federal lawsuit, Valerie Dennis, 28, began working as a legal research assistant in the county law office in July 1993, supervised by Virginia W. Barnhart, who was then the deputy county attorney.

After graduating in December 1993 from the University of Baltimore law school, Ms. Dennis asked for a job as assistant attorney, the normal progression for researchers, she said. Although the other researchers who applied -- all white got assistant attorney positions, she didn't, the suit says.

In June, she was fired from her researcher's job because of "budget cuts," although no one else received such a notice, according to the suit. In October, the county filled her researcher's job with a white male, the suit says.

"I took [Ms. Barnhart's] word that it was a budget cut," Ms. Dennis said. But when she learned a white man was hired, she decided to take legal action.

She filed a civil suit this month in U.S. District Court against the county Office of Law, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III and Ms. Barnhart, who now is the county attorney. She wants the court to prohibit the county from engaging in race and sex discrimination and to give her an unspecified amount of back pay.

Ms. Dennis works as an attorney for a Baltimore firm, handling employment discrimination, personal injury, criminal matters and civil litigation.

County spokesman Michael H. Davis yesterday called the case "groundless." He noted that the two top posts in the county law office are held by women one of whom is black and said the county will seek to have the case dismissed.

A statement released by the county says there is "significant diversity in both gender and race amongst the Law Office's Assistant County Attorneys." Mr. Davis would not say how many of the 18 assistant county attorneys are black and how many are female, and would not elaborate on the budget cuts and other issues in the case.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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