Howard Police terminate officer suing department for discrimination

The black female Howard County Police officer suing the department in United States District Court for racial discrimination was fired last week, approximately one week after her attorney filed an amended complaint against the department, according to her attorney.

Lisa Burgess, of Gwynn Oak in Baltimore County, filed a complaint seeking $400,000 in damages in December alleging that she was denied due pay raises because of negative performance evaluations that contained "false, misleading and exaggerated claims."

Burgess' Columbia-based attorney, Tae Kim, said he was not surprised Burgess was fired.

"It's par for the course for the way they have treated Officer Burgess over the last couple years," said Kim, who said Burgess began experiencing discrimination in October 2010.

Kim said police told Burgess she was fired based on two bi-monthly performance evaluations, which he said also made false claims. However, Kim said he believes she was fired for another reason.

"I think ultimately the issues raised in the lawsuit against the Howard County Police Department left them no choice but to fire her," he said.

Howard County Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn would not comment on the case, but confirmed Burgess was no longer employed at the department. Llewellyn would not confirm if Burgess was terminated, but did say her last day was June 7.

The original complaint, which was levied against the department and Burgess' supervisor Jennifer Reidy-Hall, was dismissed with prejudice by United States District Court Judge Catherine Baker on May 1 because Burgess "fails to plausibly allege discrimination based on race."

According to the order granting the defense's motion for dismissal, the complaint "essentially alleges nothing more than that officer Burgess is African-American and received negative performance evaluations from a Caucasian supervisor."

However, the case remains open after Burgess submitted an amended complaint on May 31 solely against the department that Kim said "rounds out the factual allegations to keep the complaint going."

In the amended complaint, which also seeks $400,000 in damages, Kim includes performance reviews from Burgess' past supervisor, Capt. Daniel Coon, that noted "a number of cases involving excellent police work resulting in successful closures."

"Indeed, there have been no allegations by the defendant that the plaintiff was performing below satisfactory level prior to October 2010," Kim wrote.

Prior to October 2010, when Burgess was placed under Reidy-Hall's supervision, Kim said her number of arrest and traffic citations, which Reidy-Hall cited in poor performance reviews, were average in comparison to her platoon. Kim states that white officers who have performed worse than Burgess statistically "have been treated more favorably."

Kim said he is awaiting the Howard County Office of Law to file a reply to his amended complaint, which requests a trial by jury.

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