The Annapolis Human Relations Commission agreed last night to investigate whether city banks discriminate against minority loan applicants and to survey municipal employees on sexual harassment.
The 11-member volunteer commission agreed to conduct both studies at the request of Alderman Carl O. Snowden, the city's well-known civil rights activist. Mr. Snowden successfully sponsored City Council legislation earlier this year that made Annapolis the first jurisdiction in Maryland to outlaw sexual harassment.
Mr. Snowden said he was concerned about discrimination by lending institutions after reading about a national survey by the Federal Reserve Board that showed blacks and Hispanics were being denied loans even when they had the same credit ratings as whites.
"I'm wondering if it is happening at a local level," said the Democrat who represents the city's 5th Ward.
The commission decided to pattern its study after the national survey. Chairman Donald Aronson said he had already requested preliminary figures from one local bank but needs an expert to interpret the data.
Marianela Flores Sargent, a commission member and divorced mother of two children, said she believes banks and credit unions frequently discriminate against single women.
As soon as she was divorced, her credit rating plummeted, she said. She was denied several credit cards before being offered one through Anne Arundel Community College, where she is taking legal courses.
"I owned a home. I owned a car. I was being paid a good salary," Ms. Sargent said after the meeting. "The moment they found out that I was applying on my own, all of a sudden I was not good enough."
Commission members also agreed to survey the city's 459 workers on whether they have been victims of sexual harassment. Mr. Aronson said Los Angeles conducted a similar survey and found 37 percent of its city employees complained that they had been subjected to unwanted touches, comments, jokes or gestures.
In interviews over the past week, female city employees complained that city government still has what they call an "old-boy network."
Some male administrators have made offensive, sexual or blatantly sexist comments, the female employees said. A half-dozen female workers complained that male bosses don't treat them with respect, or don't take them seriously.
City workers participated in a two-day sensitivity training seminar this fall. They also were encouraged to attend a %J workshop on sexual harassment Wednesday that was sponsored by the city, the YWCA and the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce.
Sexual harassment in Annapolis is now a crime punishable by a (( $1,000 fine, or up to six months in jail. Employees who lose promotions or jobs by refusing to submit to sexual advances can call the police, or simply go to District Court and swear out a criminal complaint under the city's law.
No complaints have been filed yet, but Mr. Snowden and women's rights activists have said many victims of harassment are afraid to complain.