Former Public Works Employee Sues, Alleging Sexual Harassment

April 22, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A former Baltimore County public works employee claims in a federal suit that he was sexually harassed by his female supervisor and that his complaints to the bureau's chief produced no help. He is seeking $500,000 in damages.

Robert Leach, 38, of North Point also says that after he complained, he was assigned too often to the blueprint machine, which uses ammonia, causing damage to his hands. He has filed a separate state workers' compensation claim over those alleged injuries.

"They made his life hell out there," said Stuart J. Snyder, Leach's attorney.

In his lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in January, Leach, a former clerk in the county's Engineering Records office, claims that his former supervisor, Sharon Lutz, began harassing him in April 1994 by "inappropriate touching, sexual demands, invitations and other sexual related comments and threats."

Leach said in an interview that the harassment began as an annoyance but escalated into major confrontations that caused him to complain repeatedly to Lutz's bosses in public works. "They would laugh and tell me to deal with it," he said.

County officials could not recall a similar case.

County Attorney Virginia W. Barnhart said she could not comment on a pending suit, but said, "There are always two sides to a story. I can't say anything else."

Lutz, who left her county job in February 1996, declined to comment when reached at home.

But the County Council last night authorized hiring a private law firm, Whiteford, Taylor and Preston, to defend Lutz. That will allow Barnhart to defend only the government in the suit.

Leach's lawsuit was filed after he was given the go-ahead in October to sue by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But he also says that his complaint to the EEOC two years ago set off a campaign by his bosses in public works to force him off the county payroll.

He claims that as part of that effort he was forced to spend too much time in the Engineering Records room making blueprints with ammonia that eventually left his hands bloody, even when he wore gloves. He says he was required to work with the substances despite repeated recommendations against it by several physicians. He says he stopped going to work last month after he was assigned to the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift -- a shift he says his supervisors knew he could not work because he must send his four daughters to school each morning.

County public works director Charles R. Olsen first said he could not comment on Leach's allegations, citing the pending workers' compensation claim and the suit. But he then said, "I don't see a problem" with the operation of the blueprint machine, which, he said, is identical to those others used by private and public offices.

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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