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Former prosecutor, reservist, accuses city of discrimination

A lawyer who joined the U.S. Army Reserve says the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office declined to rehire him after he finished his training — which he alleges is a violation of federal law.

Capt. Andrew Gross, 28, of Columbia filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against the city and the prosecutor's office, claiming the office discriminated against him because of his military service. The suit seeks unspecified damages, back pay and other costs.

"It really blows my mind that they did this," said Baltimore-based attorney Steven D. Silverman, who represents Gross. "It's just perplexing to me that the state's attorney's office of all people refuse[s] to follow the law."

Silverman says the U.S. Employment and Reemployment Rights Act gives Gross the right to reclaim his employment after being absent for service. Gross was training in Charlottesville, Va., and Fort Sill, Okla., for six months.

Mark Cheshire, the spokesman for the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, noted Gross' situation was handled by the previous state's attorney, Patricia Jessamy.

"This issue originated more than one year before the current administration took office," he said. "Regardless, we have been working with Mr. Gross and his counsel to resolve the matter."

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, referred questions to the state's attorney's office.

"Quite frankly, we're not sure why the mayor is named in the suit at all," he said. "It's the city's policy to follow state and federal employment law and we're confident that the city is doing that."

Gross, a graduate of Wilde Lake High School and St. Mary's College of Maryland, was hired as a law clerk with the state's attorney's office in 2007 while he was attending law school at the University of Baltimore. Two years later, the office promoted him to prosecutor on the city's drug court.

Around that time, Gross signed up for the U.S. Army Reserve. He was called upon for a six-month training, only three months after he began his work as a prosecutor, according to his suit.

Upon returning to Baltimore, the prosecutors' office informed Gross his position was no longer waiting for him — and he would have to reapply after the latest crop of law clerks received positions within the agency, Gross said.

"That was heartbreaking," he said. "They said, 'We can't hire you now.'"

Gross said he spent five months looking for work. He applied for jobs at private law firms and at federal and state agencies. But he was unable to find a job, he said. Despite that, Gross said he has no regrets about his decision to join the reserves.

"In 30 years, had I not joined the military, I would have regretted it," he said.

His attorney, Silverman, said his client had been willing to settle the suit for $30,000 to make up for Gross' missed pay, but instead, the city hired a private firm to handle the case.

Timothy F. McCormack, a partner at Ballard Spahr, the private firm assigned to the suit, declined to comment.

John Raughter, a spokesman for the American Legion, said members of the military should have their jobs protected.

"There's a recurring issue of military members returning from deployments and finding their jobs not waiting for them or that their careers have suffered irreparable harm," Raughter said.

"This happens all the time," Gross said. "The law can be kind of nuanced, but it's clear I should have been given a job back."

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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