Ex-guard at APG files bias suit

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Only a few months into her job, Cecelia Port says, she learned graphically that women were not welcome to guard Aberdeen Proving Ground.

When she called for backup so she could take bathroom breaks, her male colleagues ignored her.

They frequently made lewd, personal comments and sometimes groped her.

When she arrived for work one morning, a fellow guard spat on her. A sympathetic male colleague began escorting her to her car because he feared for her safety.

He also went to superiors and cautioned that "people were going to be hurt" if something wasn't done.

But nothing was done, according to Ms. Port and others.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Army, in separate decisions, agreed that she was harassed and discriminated against.

Ms. Port filed a federal lawsuit recently in Baltimore seeking $300,000 -- the maximum allowed -- against the Army and several officials at Aberdeen. She also is suing a guard for $1 million.

Aberdeen spokesman George Mercer said that post officials declined to comment about the suit.

He said that of Aberdeen's 119 civilian guards, five are women.

An official with Local 2058 of the National Federation of Federal Employees summed up the attitude of the male guards at one hearing.

"There was a great resentment of Ms. Port and all the females because they were women," said Walter Kolodziejski, who complained through the chain of command at Aberdeen about Ms. Port's problems. "Most of the guards . . . resented the fact that women were working with us in that capacity."

Ms. Port, 41, who is married and has three children, worked for seven years as a security guard at Johns Hopkins Hospital before taking the Aberdeen job in 1992. She declined to be interviewed, but at a hearing in U.S. District Court she described the harassment she experienced, particularly after filing formal complaints.

"Every day there was something happening," she testified. "It would happen before roll call, it would happen during working hours, it would happen even when I went in to turn in my weapons at the end of the day. Something would be said. Something would be done.

"The only thing that would have stopped it was quitting, and I couldn't afford to quit."

After months of systematic harassment, Ms. Port was at an emotional breaking point, according to court records.

"I told her on many occasions I don't know how she did it, because I had myself gone home in tears," Mr. Kolodziejski testified.

In January 1993, when Ms. Port asked two guards to stop a particularly lewd conversation, they refused. When she asked two other guards who witnessed the incident to confirm it so she could file a complaint, they refused. Ms. Port then began shaking and crying, and her supervisors asked that she be taken to Kirk Army Hospital.

One supervisor wrote that she was a possible threat to her own safety and to that of others and ordered her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which revealed no psychiatric problems.

She was transferred to a job in Edgewood and was relieved of her gun. She worked alone in a trailer for several months and was given little work.

"I believe I made a comment that basically . . . you'll probably be sitting and looking at four walls, but I did not say that was her job," George Schiesser, chief of the Civilian Security Guard Division testified at the hearing. The Department of the Army said the reassignment was retaliation. It also found that management failed to take proper action to stop the harassment.

Ms. Port was laid off from Aberdeen in January 1994 and works in an accounting job with the Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore.

Kenneth W. Burris, the civilian guard who allegedly spat on her and is being sued for $1 million, declined to comment.

Also named in the suit are Lt. Col. Robert J. Lesson, Mr. Schiesser, Capt. Harry G. Cave, Lt. Gordon L. Lasley Jr. and Lt. Jack Minnear Jr. All declined to discuss the case.

"They were well aware of this situation for a long period of time and did nothing," said Ms. Port's lawyer, Bruce Ezrine.

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