Third former Arundel worker seeks to join suit against Leopold

She claims she was fired for helping other women with their complaint

April 07, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

A former Anne Arundel County employee is alleging that she was fired in retaliation for helping co-workers in their lawsuit against County Executive John R. Leopold, and she is seeking to join their claim against him.

In an amended complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Joan M. Harris alleges that she was fired from her job as a community services specialist for helping Karla Hamner, the first plaintiff, who alleged sexual harassment, and Laurie Garvey, who alleged that she was fired for disloyalty.

Leopold, who was elected in November to a second term, has denied the allegations in the lawsuit, which was filed last year.

In court documents, the county's lawyers have asked the judge not to allow an amended complaint and say that it was filed too late. "After reviewing the tardy submission for this proposed pleading, my sense is that it adds nothing whatsoever to the Hamner case," County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson said Thursday.

In recent months, the county's lawyers have asked the court to dismiss the case and are seeking sanctions against the women's attorney, John M. Singleton of Owings Mills.

It's up to the judge to accept or reject an amended lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges gender discrimination and a hostile work environment; it includes allegations that Leopold ordered his security detail to run down the license plates of cars of attractive women and that Leopold had a relationship with a county employee.

Harris worked for the county from 2006 until she was fired Nov. 3, according to the court papers. Court documents show that she started seeking to join the lawsuit in January, and the latest court filings include more detailed allegations.

They also come as Leopold is under investigation by the Office of the State Prosecutor. Members of his police security detail, which allegedly picked up a $4,000 campaign contribution for him last year, and a secretary have been questioned as part of the investigation in recent weeks.

"All I can say is I am happy that it would appear that these cases have brought about greater scrutiny of what has been going on during this administration," said Singleton, the lawyer for the women. He refused to discuss the case further.

The court filing alleges that Harris provided information backing her co-workers' claims against Leopold. She alleges that after Garvey was added to the lawsuit last fall, she was given fewer assignments and was "not included in certain staff meetings where the election campaign issues were discussed."

The filing is silent on whether campaign matters were discussed on personal time, which is permissible, or during county work time. Singleton said Harris' understanding was that staff meetings were part of the workday "and that this was expected of employees."

In addition, the amended filing alleges that "staff members were expected to attend campaign events and activities and were involved in talking to citizens about the placement of campaign signs on their property," though whether that was personal or work time is also not stated.

At the same time, a $100 campaign contribution was expected from staff members, and she told chief of staff Erik Robey that she doubted she could afford it, according to the allegations. However, she maintains that she told Robey she spent the money to buy Leopold an Internet domain name. She took the site down after being fired.

In 2009, Leopold was accused of sexually harassing a state employee at the county headquarters. An anonymous 911 caller also reported possible sexual activity in what turned out to be Leopold's government-issued car parked near Nordstrom at Westfield Annapolis Mall. No charges were filed, and police told the County Council that the officer who responded saw nothing to indicate that Leopold was engaged in inappropriate conduct.

Hamner was a member of Leopold's support staff for about a year, ending in 2008. Garvey worked as Leopold's executive secretary from 2007 to 2008.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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