City man files bias suit against Howard

He alleges county denies white males equal chance to be police officers

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.

Ex-chief declines comment

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, EEOC Acting District Director Barbara Veldhuizen 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.

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.

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 back 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.

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