A Maryland-based arm of the Saudi health ministry that buys supplies for that country's royal hospital may not claim sovereign immunity in fighting a sex discrimination complaint, an administrative law judge has ruled.
Royspec Purchasing Services, an agency of the Saudi government based near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, argued in a March hearing that it was immune from the complaint brought by the Maryland Human Relations Commission.
A former Royspec purchasing agent, Marian Heymann of Pasadena, charged in 1987 that sex bias by her employer forced her to quit a $40,000-a-year job after six years with the agency. The case has since been tied up in procedural wrangling and other delays.
Administrative Law Judge Sondra L. Mackel ruled that Royspec is not protected by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it engages in commercial activity.
Royspec (the acronym stands for Royal Specialist) buys millions of dollars worth of equipment, supplies, medicine, computers and furniture every year for King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, Saudi Arabia's main hospital.
"The importance of this case is that a foreign government can't simply establish a colony in the state of Maryland and go into business, benefit from the laws and economy of this state, and then claim immunity from prosecution when it violates the law," says Lee D. Hoshall, assistant general counsel of the human relations commission.
Richard Hafets, a lawyer for Royspec, faulted the decision and said it would be challenged.
The commission has charged that despite an exemplary record as a purchasing agent, Mrs. Heymann was hounded from her job by Dr. Ali S. Al-Shabrami, shortly after he became Royspec's director general, because she is a woman. She now is a legal secretary in Baltimore.
A June 21 prehearing conference has been set in the case at the state Office of Administrative Hearings in Lutherville.