Bias lawsuit filed over police hiring

White males denied equal opportunity, Baltimore man says

`A serious claim'

Rejected applicant says women admitted despite lower scores

July 15, 1999|By Greg Garland and Nancy A. Youssef | Greg Garland and Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore man who was passed over for a job as a Howard County police officer has filed a class action lawsuit against the county for allegedly discriminating against white males in its hiring practices.

The suit notes a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finding that there is "reasonable cause to believe that [Howard County] has engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against white males as a class with respect to making selection decisions for police officer positions."

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by Michael S. Matthews, 47. He claims he and other white male applicants have been denied "a full and fair opportunity to compete" for jobs within the county's Police Department.

Matthews, who applied for a job with the department in 1995, said in court filings that the county discriminates against whites by setting different, easier standards for women and minority applicants.

County Executive James N. Robey, a former Howard police chief, declined to comment on the suit yesterday. He said the county had not been served the suit papers.

Matthews originally complained to the EEOC, a step required under federal law before a suit can be filed in a job discrimination case.

In a June 25, 1998, letter outlining the agency's findings, Barbara Veldhuizen, EEOC acting district director, wrote that the county acknowledged treating minority and female candidates for police officer jobs more favorably than white male candidates.

The county has violated provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "by giving impermissible consideration to applicants' race and sex in making police officer selection decisions," Veldhuizen wrote.

An uncommon finding

Such "reasonable cause" findings by the EEOC are uncommon.

Michael J. Widomski, a spokesman for the agency, said 4.6 percent of the 101,470 cases the EEOC handled in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1998, resulted in a finding of reasonable cause to believe that the law had been violated.

The EEOC's findings in the Matthews case were forwarded to the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Right Division, which notified Matthews in April that it would not file suit against Howard County over its hiring practices.

"We get hundreds of referrals a year, and we can only take a small percentage of those cases because we have very limited resources," said Christine M. DiBartolo, a spokeswoman for the division.

Matthews did not respond to telephone calls yesterday seeking comment.

One of his attorneys, Stephen B. Lebeau, said he had little to add to the legal filing.

"The complaint speaks for itself," Lebeau said.

"The EEOC found for Mr. Matthews, and we believe it presents a serious claim. I think the issues are pretty important."

In his suit, Matthews described several circumstances in which white males were treated differently from minorities and women in applying for jobs with the Howard County Police Department.

Physical test passed

Matthews said he passed a physical ability test that included dragging a weighted dummy, but female applicants who failed the test the same day were invited to retake it using a dummy that weighed less.

Matthews also said he scored 10 or more on a personnel history questionnaire that is graded on a 20-point scale.

White applicants who scored less than 10 were not advanced to the interview stage of the application process, but minorities and women, who scored less than 10, did get interviews.

In the interviews, applicants were rated as "excellent," "acceptable" or "not acceptable" by a panel of three interviewers. Matthews said two rated him "excellent" and one rated him "acceptable."

"White male applicants who received less than three `excellent' ratings from their interviews advanced no further in the application process and were denied further opportunity to compete for employment," the suit states.

Minority applicants

In contrast, minority and female applicants "were advanced in the application process and permitted to compete for employment" even if they received two "excellent" ratings, the suit states.

About 30 of Howard County's 313 officers are women, but nine of this year's 17 police academy members are women. About 20 percent of the county's officers are ethnic minorities. County police Chief Wayne Livesay has said the department is searching for more minorities and women.

Cpl. John Paparazzo, president of the Howard County Police Officers Association, said he did not see exceptions made for women and minorities when he was training officers between 1990 and 1998.

To join the department's academy class, an applicant must pass a written exam, physical exam, submit answers to a questionnaire, pass an interview and go through other evaluations. If an applicant passes those, the applicant's name is submitted to the chief of police, who then selects the academy class.

The county's Office of Personnel and the Police Department administered the testing.

"If you failed, you failed," Paparazzo said. "When we ran the test, we played straight by the book, frankly, because we didn't want to get sued."

Testing conditions

He said that women had to pass the same exam as men and that he didn't see anyone receive a second opportunity once they failed a test, unless officials determined the testing conditions were unfair.

But he said that if Matthews received "excellent," "excellent" and "acceptable" ratings on the interview and was dropped though others received the same score and were considered, the situation would be worth examining.

"If that is true, he has a legitimate complaint," he said.

The suit, which names the county and several officials as defendants, asks the court to bar the county from continuing discriminatory hiring practices. It seeks back pay for Matthews and compensatory and punitive damages.

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