Preference conceded in police selections

Officials say it was in a bid to diversify

August 22, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

In response to a Baltimore man's claim that he was discriminated against during the Howard County Police Department's application process, officials admitted showing preference but said they were justified.

Michael S. Matthews, 47, filed a suit in U.S. District Court last month claiming that when he applied for a police position in 1995, minority and female candidates were treated more favorably than white male candidates.

In its response, the county filed a motion asking for the case to be dismissed. According to court documents, officials said that during the 1995 application process they "wished to address the historic underrepresentation of women and minorities in the Department of Police."

To join the department, applicants must pass 11 tests, including a written exam, a physical exam, a questionnaire and an interview. Matthews said he was discriminated against when he was cut after the interview stage.

During the interview, three panelists gave Matthews two "excellent" ratings and one "acceptable."

County officials originally agreed to accept only candidates receiving three excellent ratings, according to an affidavit submitted by Police Chief Wayne Livesay, who was overseeing the selection process. At the time, James N. Robey was police chief; Livesay succeeded him when Robey was elected county executive last November.

Because a disproportionally high number of white males received that score, the department decided to advance all women and minorities receiving two "excellent" and one "acceptable" to the background stage, county officials said. The decision was "an effort to address the goals and objectives established by the Department's Affirmative Action Plan," according to court documents.

Fourteen minority males, 10 white females and six minority females advanced in the process because of the new cutoffs. Thirty white males -- including Matthews -- were eliminated.

`Discrimination'

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission determined in July 1998 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" when selecting an officer.

According to an Aug. 10 affidavit submitted by county human resources analyst Gwen West, 23 of the 26 candidates chosen to join the academy in March 1996 received three "excellent" ratings during the interview process.

County officials said they have since altered their policy.

`Missing the point'

Matthews was 44 when he applied, a 21-year veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, where he was a sergeant in its human resources bureau.

"I think they are admitting to the conduct alleged, but they are disputing its significance," said Theodore Cooperstein, an attorney representing Matthews. "In a certain sense, they seem to be missing the point."

Matthews also claimed that women who failed a physical test -- dragging a weighted dummy 50 feet -- were allowed to retake it. The county said everyone who failed was permitted to try again after police academy officers determined the newly purchased dummy weighed more than they thought.

Asked to comment on the county's response, police spokesman Sgt. Morris Carroll said, "Unfortunately, our policy precludes us from responding to pending lawsuits."

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