A former City Hall manager filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that in 2008 then-City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pressured her to circumvent the city's termination process and summarily fire the only white worker in an office.
Jennifer Coates, who had served as director of council services under three council presidents until she resigned in 2008, is seeking $5 million in damages. In the suit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court, she says Rawlings-Blake pressured her to fire Richard Krummerich, the oldest and only white employee of the council services office, and replace him with a person Rawlings-Blake preferred.
Coates says when she refused, she was pressured to resign and was wrongfully terminated.
"It was made clear to Ms. Coates that then-Council President Rawlings-Blake wanted to put younger bodies into the office and specifically remove Mr. Krummerich," said Thomas J. Maronick, an attorney for Coates. "She was concerned about the racial element of this."
Rawlings-Blake became mayor in February. A spokesman said in an e-mail Wednesday that he could not comment on pending litigation. Spokesman Ryan O'Doherty added: "Any disgruntled employee can file a lawsuit with false and unfortunate allegations."
Coates, who had worked for the city since 1992, says she was approached by Rawlings-Blake's then-chief of staff, Kimberly Washington, in May 2008. Washington, a friend of the mayor's since early childhood, currently serves as her deputy chief of staff.
Washington told Coates that Rawlings-Blake "wanted to give Mr. Krummerich's job to another person, one Sean DuBurns," Coates says in the suit.
Coates says she balked at the orders, explaining that Krummerich, a legislative policy analyst, was a career employee, not a political appointee. He did not have negative employee reviews, she says, and a lengthy five-part process would need to be carried out before he could be terminated. To fire him without following the procedure would violate the city's Civil Service Act, Coates says.
Terminating Krummerich, she says, "would have raised significant concern that the firing was racially motivated or age-motivated."
Later in the same day, Coates says, she reiterated her concerns to Rawlings-Blake and Washington, pointing out that eliminating the lone white employee in the office would raise eyebrows.
But Rawlings-Blake said Krummerich had been caught sleeping on the job and made an error in a published announcement, Coates says, and she wanted him fired as soon as possible.
Reached for comment, Krummerich said he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
Rawlings-Blake again prodded Coates to fire Krummerich about two weeks later, Coates says, and told her she was not "giving her proper deference in her position as council president." Rawlings-Blake also said that people had been speaking to her on Krummerich's behalf and, she told Coates, "if that doesn't stop it will hurt you," Coates says.
Coates, who says she had had positive job evaluations during her tenure with the city, says Rawlings-Blake criticized her to other council members.
After what Coates describes as continued pressure from Rawlings-Blake and Washington and an "environment of fear and hostility," she resigned in August 2008 from the $90,000-a-year job. Krummerich continues to staff council hearings and meetings as an employee of the council services office.
Rawlings-Blake and Washington "made it clear to [Coates] that she would be fired herself if she did not disobey the law as she knew it and terminate Mr. Krummerich," Coates says in the suit.
Coates is seeking $500,000 for wrongful termination and $1.5 million for each of three counts of defamation, a hostile work environment and retaliation. Maronick, the attorney, has not yet filed a motion to ask for a judge or jury trial.