Baltimore Co. senators OK job bias bill Measure would expand rights of victims

February 14, 1997|By Ronnie Greene | Ronnie Greene,SUN STAFF

Moving to close a loophole in Baltimore County's law against job bias, the county's Senate delegation endorsed a bill yesterday that would give new rights to people discriminated against on the job.

The state bill, part of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's state legislative agenda, would begin to put Baltimore County's law on near-equal footing with laws in Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Under the county's current system, no legal grounds exist for a person working at a company with fewer than 15 employees to file a civil suit seeking damages for job discrimination.

At larger companies, employees can turn to the state or federal government to seek damages -- but those agencies don't handle bias cases involving companies with fewer than 15 employees.

Under the bill endorsed yesterday, employees of small companies would be able to file suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court, where they could seek compensatory damages, back pay and attorney's fees. However, unlike laws in some other counties, the law would not permit punitive damages.

Still, the measure is a big step for a county with a bias law that has lagged behind others.

Ruppersberger pushed the issue after the county Human Relations Commission, the League of Women Voters and others lobbied for a stronger law.

"It's important that people who work for small employers had no relief at all in Baltimore County prior to this," said Sen. Delores Kelley, a key supporter of the measure. "And we've seen a lot of statistics that suggest for reasons of race, gender and religion, persons really were being discriminated against.

"And there simply was nowhere to turn," said the Democrat, who represents Woodlawn and Randallstown.

In Baltimore County, complaints of racial bias accounted for about 40 percent of the nearly 200 cases filed with the Human Relations Commission in a recent three-year period, according to statistics released last year. Most often, the alleged discrimination occurred in the workplace.

Under the bill, a person would have to wait 60 days after filing a complaint with the county Human Relations Commission before filing suit. The waiting period is intended to allow parties to resolve a dispute before the filing of a lawsuit.

The Senate delegation vote, which came with no dissent, occurred a week after the Human Relations Commission, the county chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Baltimore Jewish Council spoke in favor of the bill.

Passing the Senate delegation was an important step, because the bill is local, applying only to Baltimore County. It moves to a Senate committee and eventually to the floor; it then would have to go through the House of Delegates.

"It's an important step in the process, because it's almost unheard of for a bill of this nature to be defeated by the full body if the local delegation has endorsed it," said Patrick Roddy, an assistant county attorney who has worked on the bias bill.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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