Woman backs bias lawsuit; Says Howard police testing and hiring slighted white males; Baltimore man is plaintiff; County concedes changing criteria, says it was justified


A former Howard County employee alleges that high-ranking police and county officials manipulated hiring procedures and selectively lowered standards to ensure the hiring of minority and female applicants to the Police Department in 1995.

Sheryl May makes her allegations in an affidavit filed by attorneys for a white Baltimore man who sued the department in July, claiming discrimination cost him a chance at a police job that year. County officials filed their latest response to the allegations Friday.

The county focused on legal arguments, saying that the plaintiff, Michael S. Matthews, has not proved his case.

"Sex and race were simply one of a number of factors considered by the County in making its decision as to who would proceed," according to court documents filed by the county. "It is the Plaintiff's belief that the Court should punish the County, and should do so by placing substantial sums of money in his pockets."

The county has conceded in court documents that it changed the criteria for women and minorities during the interview stage, but asserts it was legally justified. County officials also acknowledged that they "wished to address the historic underrepresentation of women and minorities in its work force, and to address the operational needs of a police department serving a diverse population."

May is the first former or current county employee involved in police hiring to back Matthews' claim that white applicants were treated differently. May, 33, of Columbia worked for the Police Department from July 1995 to October 1997, first as a temporary worker in the recruitment office. She was hired specifically to help process applications.

In September 1996, she says, she became a permanent county employee, working for Capt. Wayne Livesay, among others. Livesay is now police chief. County Executive James N. Robey was police chief in 1995.

May alleges that:

Minorities and women advanced to the personal interview stage even if they scored only 8 on the initial phase, a questionnaire. White male applicants, she inferred, had to score at least 10.

The interview stage was arbitrary. She said in about 10 instances, "interviewers had crossed out their original ratings and changed their final ratings of a candidate. The changes included improvements from lower to higher ratings as well as downgrading from higher to lower ratings."

"My superiors deliberately tracked the results of each stage of the process to determine the relative success rates of white males in comparison to other categories."

She was directed by Barbara Krankoski, administrative services officer for the Police Department, to segregate the rejected applications of white males, putting them "in the back of a bottom drawer, unlabeled" and not making that drawer " 'so obvious.' "

An attorney representing Matthews said May's statements suggest that the county did not want white males reconsidered for last-minute openings.

"They might still go back to those files if someone decides not to join" the department, said Ted Cooperstein, one of two lawyers representing Matthews. "As I understand it, it shows their awareness and their willingness to eliminate white males."

Matthews, 47, says he was discriminated against based on his age as well as race and gender. He was 44 at the time.

During the interview stage, three panelists rated an applicant "excellent," "acceptable" or "unacceptable." An applicant usually needed to receive three "excellent" ratings to continue. But during the process in 1995, county officials said in court papers they had a "disproportionately high" number of white males who received that rating and decided that all women and minorities who received two "excellent" ratings and one "acceptable" could continue.

Matthews received two excellent ratings and one acceptable rating.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in March that the county did practice a pattern of discrimination during the 1995 process. In Matthews' most recent court filing, Sept. 15, he claims "the discriminatory policy, practice or custom of the Defendants has been ongoing for some years prior to [his] application for employment, and continued until entry of a conciliation agreement between Howard County and the EEOC on or about March 1999."

In Friday's filing, county officials said Matthews declined several offers to reapply to the department, making it impossible to remedy the problem outside of a lawsuit.

"It is the County's position that the Plaintiff must demonstrate some injury or threat of sufficient immediacy and ripeness to warrant judicial intervention."

The county was under pressure to hire more minorities and women in 1995 and responded by writing a new affirmative action policy.

Just before the selection process began in 1995, the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began writing letters to then-Police Chief Robey, saying minorities and women were not being treated fairly, said Jenkins Odoms, the chapter's president since 1995.

The NAACP and police met, "and it came that the department would do more recruiting and more hiring," Odoms said in an interview. "We saw some improvement in recruitment."

That year the county hired 25 officers, 13 of whom were minorities and 12 of whom were women. It was the department's first mostly minority class.

Since January 1995, the department has hired 114 officers, including 24 nonwhite members, said Sgt. Morris Carroll, a county police spokesman.

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