Part of Leopold gender bias suit to move forward

Federal judge dismisses several allegations

May 12, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

A former employee's lawsuit accusing Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold of retaliatory termination and creating a hostile work environment can move forward, a federal judge ordered Thursday, but she threw out several allegations and blocked the attempts of two other workers to join the suit.

Judge Catherine C. Blake made the rulings in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, but did not rule on a motion for summary judgment requested by Leopold's attorneys, which would have ended the case.

Karla R. Hamner, a former county employee, filed a $10 million lawsuit against Leopold last year, alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination and workplace retaliation. The claims of two other former county employees, Laurie A. Garvey and Joan M. Harris, were dismissed. Leopold denies the allegations.

Now the case will center on allegations that Hamner was fired in retaliation for complaining about the way Leopold treated her to a county Human Resources Department employee and how that treatment created a hostile work environment.

Both sides heralded the judge's ruling as a victory.

"It's a big victory for us," said John Singleton, who represents the former county employees. "The case goes forward with all the meat and potatoes."

County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson, who is representing Leopold in the matter, said he was pleased with the judge's order.

"We got halfway where we want to go," said Hodgson. "We're pleased that the court agreed with us on the points of law that led to the decision to dismiss these counts."

Hodgson said Singleton shouldn't rush to celebrate. "All he's celebrating is that his case is only injured and not dead — yet."

Hamner, who worked for Leopold for more than a year, ending in 2008, alleges that he made unwanted sexual advances and once grabbed her by her arms and screamed at her because he disliked her hairstyle. She said that after complaining about her treatment, she was transferred to the Police Department and ultimately let go.

The complaint also had alleged that Garvey was fired a few weeks after she chose not to attend a Leopold campaign event and not to donate $50 to his campaign, and was told she was dismissed because he didn't view her as a "loyal employee." Blake ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support Garvey's allegations.

Harris had alleged that she was fired from her job as a community services specialist for helping Hamner and Garvey. Singleton said he plans to refile Harris' complaint, saying that it was dismissed because it was missing required paperwork. The judge's order said a new motion will be considered if "properly filed" within 14 days.

The county had also sought sanctions against Singleton, contending that the lawyer's allegations had no basis in fact. But the judge denied the motion. Singleton called the attempt at sanctions "frivolous." Hodgson said the issue "may be revisited."

Leopold is also the subject of a separate investigation by the state prosecutor's office to determine whether he improperly used his county-funded security detail to perform campaign tasks. He denies any wrongdoing.

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