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Dundalk college educator sues on sex harassment

A veteran educator at Dundalk Community College has filed a lawsuit accusing an outgoing dean of long-term sexual harassment and the college's trustees of failing to act on her complaints.

Sharon L. Harsher alleges that she was harassed from 1988 until the present by William Barry Shadrach, dean of administrative services, who controlled budget allocations and personnel matters at the campus.

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The 10 members of the Board of Community College Trustees for Baltimore County and Martha Smith, the former college president who is now president of Anne Arundel Community College, are also named as defendants in the action filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Dr. Harsher is seeking $1.5 million in damages.

The action details a variety of allegations, among them:

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* Mr. Shadrach wrote an intimate note to Dr. Harsher in a 1988 Christmas card: "Words cannot express it so I won't try. Know that my feelings are real and that I always be here for you. Love, Barry."

Mr. Shadrach told The Sun this week that he wrote the note but found nothing inappropriate in his words.

* Two weeks after the Christmas card, a series of anonymous notes and letters to Dr. Harsher began to arrive at her college office. The stream of harassing communications has continued up through this month. Two of the documents, written in February 1991 and obtained by The Sun, were crude and filled with sexually explicit suggestions.

Nevett Steele Jr. and Linda Eve Percy, attorneys for the plaintiff, say the notes were part of a continuing pattern of viciousness that college officials refused to deal with.

* At the beginning of 1992, someone repeatedly placed foul-smelling organic material in Dr. Harsher's office telephone in the college's Continuing Studies Division, where she served as associate dean. "I had it cleaned several times but the stuff came back," Dr. Harsher said. "It achieved its purpose . . . it made me sick."

* Mr. Shadrach allegedly commented to Dr. Harsher on numerous occasions about the male sexual organ and made explicit sexual remarks about women on the college staff. Dr. Harsher alleges that Mr. Shadrach said he had problems with his wife and that she had given him permission to have an affair.

* To minimize contact with Mr. Shadrach, Dr. Harsher requested and finally received in March 1994 a "constructive demotion" to the college faculty ranks -- a loss of $15,000 in annual pay and a halt in her career track.

Dr. Harsher has filed similar charges against Mr. Shadrach with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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A former high school teacher, Dr. Harsher joined the college in 1983 as an assistant professor. She quickly rose in rank and was appointed chairwoman of the business division and then associate dean in 1990.

After the first two anonymous letters, Dr. Harsher reported the incidents to Dr. Smith, who was then the college president. The incidents were also reported to college security and the Baltimore County Police Department. But Dr. Harsher contends that neither the college nor the board of trustees took action on her complaints. "To this day, I have never seen a report or heard of the disposition of any investigation whatsoever," she said.

Dr. Smith declined to comment on the case.

Regarding the allegations against him, Mr. Shadrach said, "There's not much I can say, unfortunately. I don't feel I've done anything wrong. We [he and Dr. Harsher] were good friends, but that's as far as it went."

Virginia Barnhart, deputy county attorney, refused this week to address the specific allegations against Mr. Shadrach and the trustees. "We filed a motion to dismiss the suit last week," she said. "The case is both procedurally and legally flawed."

Mr. Shadrach has been at Dundalk Community College for nearly 17 years. He will leave the school Friday to accept a position as vice president for administration and chief financial officer for the United Way of Central Maryland.

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Harold D. McAninich, interim president of the college, issued a statement describing Mr. Shadrach as a "trusted employee" who "guided DCC [the college] through some very difficult times of state budget cuts. We really hate to see him go."

The statement also referred to an "independent investigation" by an attorney hired by the board of trustees. The lawyer, former county attorney John A. Austin, "found no grounds for action," the statement said.

Nancy M. Hubers, chairwoman of the board of trustees at the time of the investigation, said Mr. Austin was paid $4,000 for his report, but she could not recall whether it was delivered orally or in written form.

Mr. Austin said he looked into the matter last year, but declined -- citing client confidentiality concerns -- to discuss his findings with The Sun, or to say whether he had submitted a written report to the trustees.

Mr. Shadrach refused to discuss details of the allegations but said, "If this wasn't in litigation, I could tell you why she is doing this to me."

In affidavits relating to the suit, Philip R. Day Jr., president of the college from 1982 to 1987, said he "believed that Barry was smitten by Ms. Harsher."

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Judith Munaker, former head of the paralegal studies program at the college, who is now in Madison, Wis., working on a domestic violence program, said in an affidavit she had daily contact with Mr. Shadrach and he "frequently had a story or joke of a sexual nature."

"There were people at the college who tried to deal with the complaints [against Mr. Shadrach] but other people didn't let any action proceed," Ms. Munaker said this week in an interview.

In November, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled in favor of Mr. Shadrach in a separate defamation case in which he called the payroll supervisor at the college an "uncompromising bitch."

Mr. Shadrach admitted that he used the term, but the higher court ruled it a statement of opinion and not defamatory as a matter of law.

In an interview this week, Mr. Shadrach said he is leaving the college because of a reorganization of the county's community college system, which includes Dundalk, Essex and Catonsville Community Colleges.


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