Jury awards $31,100 to female deputy Former sheriff, top deputy are found liable

Judgment sends 'message'

Gender discrimination, sex harassment suit sought $15 million

November 26, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A federal jury has ordered former Anne Arundel County Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack and his top deputy to pay $31,100 to a female deputy for sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

After a week of testimony, the jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore found Pepersack and former Undersheriff J. Patrick Ogle liable Monday for treating Elizabeth E. "Beth" Smith in a demeaning way, retaliating against her, threatening her and refusing to promote her.

The award was far below the more than $15 million sought in Smith's 1995 lawsuit, but "the issue was not the money," she said.

"My whole reason for taking this to court was not a money issue. It is because what they did was wrong, whether you are black, white, whatever; man, woman, whatever," Smith said.

"I am sure it will send a message to other law enforcement people that this kind of activity is not going to be tolerated," she said.

Anne Arundel County had been named as a defendant in the suit, but U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis dismissed the county.

Pepersack referred comments to lawyers in the attorney general's office who are representing him and Ogle, but they could not be reached yesterday. Ogle did not return calls.

Smith, now 35, is a former military police officer and private security guard who joined the Sheriff's Department in 1988. She said she had no problems until September 1991, nearly a year after Pepersack, a Republican, was elected sheriff. Ogle was his chief assistant.

Smith said that she was humiliated in front of colleagues, denied a promotion when she was the top-rated candidate on the list and berated when she questioned tasks that she suspected were mostly political. At one point, she claimed, deputies were betting on when she would be hurt because she was supposed to be the first deputy through the door on every warrant her squad served.

Pepersack's tenure as sheriff had other controversy. He feuded publicly with members of his own party on the County Council and with then-County Executive Robert R. Neall over his budget.

He sent deputies to direct traffic at a July 4, 1994, fund-raiser for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Brock. And a state prosecutor's report concluded that Pepersack ordered deputies to check criminal backgrounds of his tenants and used questionable judgment on other matters.

He lost his 1994 re-election bid to Democrat George F. Johnson IV, whose father was chairman of the county's Democratic Central Committee.

Johnson promoted Smith to sergeant in February 1995.

Pepersack is widely viewed as a potential GOP candidate for the County Council from Glen Burnie next year. Helen Fister, chairwoman of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee, said she was unsure how this verdict might affect his decision whether to seek elected office or the way voters might view him.

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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