A longtime employee in Annapolis' Human Resources Department has filed a federal complaint that accuses city officials of discriminating against her and punishing her for appealing a change in her job title.
Darlene Benedict, a 23-year city employee, served as deputy director of the Human Resources Department until the city's compensation and pay plan study last year changed her title to what she calls a lower rank of "benefits administrator." After appealing that decision, Benedict says she was removed from her office in Human Resources and moved to an office in the Police Department, where she finds it more difficult to do her job.
In January, Benedict filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging discrimination based on race, gender and disability. She is a white woman in a city government department that is predominantly black, and she suffers from a heart condition and other ailments.
The claim is one of a series of employee discrimination and harassment complaints being dealt with by the city. Last week, all city managers were required to attend "sensitivity training" after allegations of sexual harassment were raised by employees in the city's Fire and Public Works departments.
Benedict, 50, said being moved from her office is the most recent in a series of problems she has had at work the past two years. She believes it is an attempt to get her to leave the city seven years before she becomes eligible for retirement.
"It was an odd feeling to pull up to my office of 22 years and find a moving van," Benedict said. "You get labeled as a troublemaker because you stand up for yourself."
Human Resources Director Kimla T. Milburn declined to comment specifically on Benedict's case because it is a personnel issue. But she said, "[Neither] the city nor I discriminate or retaliate against someone for any matter whatsoever."
In her more than two decades in the Human Resources Department, Benedict has advanced from secretary to deputy director and has served as acting director several times during department directors' absences.
A stack of evaluations over several years rated her work as "excellent." But in March 2000, Milburn placed a reprimand in Benedict's file, saying that a prospective employee's references were not checked. Benedict, who denied wrongdoing, says her relationship with her supervisor then deteriorated.
In subsequent reviews, Milburn gave Benedict "satisfactory" marks and commented that she must "become a team player" and not "disrupt operations" at the department. Benedict, who is being treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital for a variety of conditions after undergoing open-heart surgery in 1996, said in her EEOC complaint that Milburn has also questioned her use of sick time.
Last summer, Benedict's title was changed to "benefits administrator" through the pay plan and compensation study the city commissioned. In her appeal of that decision, Benedict says the title change is "a demotion and as such it is damaging to my career, reputation and marketability." Though it did not lower her pay, she complains that it placed her on the same pay scale as employees that she says she is training.
Of four deputies or assistants in city departments, Benedict said, she was the only woman and the only one to lose her title through the city's study. Her appeal was rejected in November. The next month, her office was relocated across town to police headquarters.
In her EEOC complaint, Benedict said she was told the move would be temporary in order for her to "carry out the campaign goals and objectives" of new Mayor Ellen O. Moyer. Benedict said she has never been told what those goals and objectives are.
Moyer, who took office in December, said she did not know that Benedict was moved to carry out any campaign goals. The mayor has pledged to improve pensions for public safety employees. Benedict's duties include working with pension plans.
Benedict said she has no additional duties involving the police, and that the move to the department's headquarters has resulted in a greater workload. She complains that she has no clerical support and does not have easy access to the human resources files that she needs.
"I believe if this can happen to someone who has worked as hard and conscientiously as I have, it could happen to anyone," Benedict said. "This has been my nightmare."
In announcing that all city managers would be required to receive sensitivity training, Moyer said city officials were looking into comments allegedly made by a public works supervisor, but she declined to comment further, saying she is prohibited by law from discussing specific personnel issues. Russell T. Morgan, chief of the Bureau of Inspections and Permits, said he has been on paid leave from the Public Works Department for a month.
In February, Deborah Imhof, a paramedic in the city's Fire Department, filed an EEOC complaint contending that she had been passed over for promotional and training opportunities because she is a woman. She also has complained to the city of sexual harassment in the Fire Department.