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News Maryland Howard County Columbia

Howard police officer sues department, charges racial discrimination

A black female Howard County Police officer is suing the department and her supervisor for racial discrimination in U.S. District Court.

Pfc. Lisa Burgess, of Gwynn Oak in Baltimore County, filed the civil suit against her supervisor, Sgt. Jennifer Reidy-Hall, and the department on Dec. 6, 2012 in the Baltimore office of federal court. The suit states Burgess was given poor performance evaluations, beginning in October 2010, because of her race.

Burgess, who remains on active duty and is no longer under Reidy-Hall's command, is seeking $400,000 in damages.

In the complaint, Burgess, who said she was the only black officer in her squad, claims she was not given her due pay raises because Reidy-Hall wrote "false, misleading and exaggerated" statements on her employee evaluations.

On Feb. 19, Howard County Senior Assistant Solicitor Cynthia Peltzman filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, citing that Sgt. Reidy-Hall is not a proper defendant and that Burgess failed to state a claim against the department.

"Though she claims she was discriminated against beginning in October 2010, she alleges no facts to show what acts she believes are discriminatory or when (the acts) occurred," Pelztman wrote in the motion.

Burgess and her Columbia-based attorney, Tae Kim, have until Friday, March 8 to respond to Peltzman's motion.

Burgess was placed on bimonthly evaluations starting in January 2011 after a poor annual evaluation in 2010, according to the complaint.

During a review for April and May of 2011, Burgess received a remedial rating in eight of the 17 rating categories, including volume of acceptable work.

Reidy-Hall explained that Burgess was given a poor rating in volume of acceptable work because her arrest numbers were low and she remained below average as compared to the squad averages, according to the review.

In the complaint, Kim said that this is improper criteria for evaluating a police officer. Multiple phone calls to Kim's office were not returned.

Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said she was unable to comment about the case specifically, but confirmed that, as outlined in state law, the department uses quantitative arrest and citation data when evaluating officer performance.

Llewellyn stated that supervisors do not mandate officers meet any number of arrests or citations.

According to the review, which was filed as an exhibit in the lawsuit, Burgess issued 64 citations between January and April of 2011, while the average squad officer issued approximately 95.

Burgess also received poor ratings in job performance, judgment, planning and organizing, initiative, quality of work, professional job knowledge and investigative ability.

At receiving the April-May review, Burgess met with a department Captain, according to Kim, and her volume of acceptable work score was changed from below standard to standard.

Llewellyn said each evaluation is subject to a multi-level review and it is "not uncommon" for an evaluation to be amended.

The complaint states that the poor ratings in both versions of the review stemmed from a series of incidents that Burgess said Reidy-Hall embellished.

As a result of the poor evaluations, Burgess said she was denied promotions and pay raises that "she has properly earned."

After receiving the April-May evaluation, Burgess filed a complaint in June of 2011 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In September 2012, the EEOC closed its file on the charge after it adopted the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights finding that there was no probable cause of discrimination, Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn said 103 of the 447 officers employed by Howard County Police are minorities. Sixty-seven of those 103 are black, Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn said 27 sworn supervisors, rank of corporal and above, are classified as minorities.

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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