U.S. justices decline to hear appeal of ex-officer

He alleged police rejected him in favor of women, minorities

January 23, 2001|By CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected yesterday the appeal of a white veteran police officer who said Howard County officials violated his civil rights when they passed over his job application in favor of women and minority candidates.

Michael Matthews, who now is a civilian employee in the Montgomery County Police Department, said Howard County used unfair affirmative action practices to toss out applications from white, male job seekers in 1995.

"I believe that I am the casualty of a well-intended but misapplied affirmative action plan," Matthews wrote in a 1996 letter to the county.

Howard County officials have since acknowledged that they were following discriminatory hiring practices when they decided not to offer Matthews a spot on the county's police force. The Police Department had 26 vacancies and wanted to hire more women and minority officers to better reflect the makeup of the community.

But Howard County officials say it doesn't matter whether their hiring practices were discriminatory because Matthews wouldn't have been hired anyway: Fifty white male candidates scored better than Matthews in interviews and probably would have been hired before him.

Lower courts, including the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, agreed with Howard County. Matthews appealed to the Supreme Court, but the justices declined to get involved, letting the federal appeals court ruling stand.

Louis Ruzzi, senior assistant solicitor for Howard County government, declined to discuss the specifics of the case. But Ruzzi said he did not expect the high court to take on Matthews' case, because the appellate ruling was unsigned, which often is interpreted as not setting a precedent.

Howard County officials have reached an agreement with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to stop using the 1995 hiring practices, which were deemed too broad.

Matthews had 26 years of experience as a Washington police officer when he applied for a spot on the Howard County force in 1995.

He is no longer seeking a job as a Howard County officer. Since his court case began, Matthews has been in two traffic accidents and said he doesn't think that he could pass the department's physical, said Theodore Cooperstein, his attorney.

Matthews sought compensatory damages for emotional distress, mental anguish and damage to his reputation. Howard County's rejection of his application left a "significant cloud of doubt" over Matthews' professional qualifications, making it difficult for several months for him to find work, Cooperstein said.

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