2 ex-BCCC officials sue the school

Former vice president and dean contend firings came after they questioned grants

December 31, 2005|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

Two former Baltimore City Community College administrators have sued the school for wrongful termination, contending that they were fired after they raised concerns about a systemic lack of oversight of academic grants.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court this month, is the latest episode in the school's rocky recent history, which has included widespread turnover of top management and claims by independent auditors of poor leadership and low student performance.

Sarah L. Garrett, a former vice president of the school, and John H. Solomon, a former dean, argue that when they raised questions about the way the school handled academic grants worth millions of dollars they were harassed, threatened and ultimately fired.

"I went to my superiors, who said to me, `Leave it alone. You just sign off on it,'" Garrett said yesterday of grant applications she was asked to review. "Then I was threatened that I should be more concerned with upward mobility."

Although their argument is not detailed in the lawsuit, the two say the school sidestepped protocol when applying for and administering state and federal grants by bypassing an administrative office charged with grant oversight. Garrett said she was asked to sign grant applications without knowing how the money would be spent.

The lawsuit alleges violations of at least seven federal laws, including the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Garrett was fired March 1, and Solomon was fired last December, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesman for BCCC, which was closed for the holidays yesterday, could not be reached for comment. Garland O. Williamson, a member of the school's board of trustees, declined to comment.

"I will not comment on lawsuits," he said. "We'll handle that in court."

The lawsuit comes 19 months after the school's last president, Sylvester E. McKay, resigned days after he said he had no intention of leaving the school.

McKay's departure in 2004 was among the most visible indications of turmoil at the college, which had been beset by disputes between the faculty and administration, poor student performance and other problems. A 2004 audit by the Maryland Higher Education Commission found questionable hiring practices and a culture of "pervasive paranoia" at the school.

Lewyn Scott Garrett, who is representing the two and who is Sarah Garrett's brother, said his clients were targeted for trying to safeguard money that might have been mishandled by school leaders. The lawsuit stops short of saying the school broke any law in how it administered grants.

"During the course of their jobs, doing what they're supposed to do, they discovered what appeared to be discrepancies in grants and appropriations," said Garrett, whose clients are seeking $1 million in damages.

"Not only is this action for them, but they are almost representatives of the students and everyone else of BCCC," he said.

Kevin J. Enright, a spokesman for the Maryland attorney general"s office, declined to comment on the lawsuit. BCCC, which has about 7,100 students, is run by the state.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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