Maryland officials are poised to pay $75,000 to an African-American state highway worker who says he was harassed, assaulted and called racial epithets by a boss who wore a Confederate flag T-shirt in the workplace.
The action would resolve a lawsuit brought in 2013 by Jeffrey W. Mills, a maintenance worker in the State Highway Administration's shop in Laurel. The settlement is scheduled to be voted on Wednesday by the state Board of Public Works, which has the final say on such agreements.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, alleges that in April 2013, a white team leader in Mills' shop, Guy David Colburn, directed racial epithets at Mills, who is African-American, while Colburn was wearing a T-shirt depicting the Confederate battle flag. The lawsuit says the supervisor repeatedly called Mills "Tarzan," which Mills understood to be a racially derogatory reference.
Mills reported Colburn to a district manager but was subjected to "increased harassment and threats" when Colburn wasn't found guilty of any wrongdoing. Co-workers called Mills a snitch and a rat, the suit says.
"Plaintiff was intimidated at work, told to 'watch his step' by supervisors and falsely was accused of not performing his jobs appropriately," the suit says.
In June 2013, the lawsuit says, Colburn again addressed Mills by a racial epithet while wearing the Confederate flag T-shirt. A supervisor said he "did not have time to deal with" the conflict between the two workers, the lawsuit says.
Mills eventually filed a formal complaint that Colburn's actions created a "hostile and offensive work environment" at the shop. The state equal opportunity office agreed, but the harassment continued, including an assault by a supervisor in August 2013, the lawsuit says.
"The atmosphere became so intense and intimidating that [Mills] feared for his safety both while at work and while traveling home from work," the suit says.
After Mills filed his initial lawsuit in December 2013, the harassment continued, according a subsequent filing in the case. The lawsuit alleges that some management employees joined in the retaliation by denying him bereavement pay and investigating his work performance and attendance.
The suit sought $750,000 in damages, but the settlement negotiated with the state attorney general's office calls for Mills to be paid one-tenth of that amount.
Mills' attorney, Nathaniel D. Johnson of White Plains, said his client declined to comment before the board meeting. Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the SHA, said the agency would have no comment on the case.
According to the state comptroller's office, Mills and Colburn are no longer on the state payroll. Calls left at numbers associated with Colburn's last known address were not returned.
The Board of Public Works is made up of Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. While the panel has the authority to deny a settlement, that seldom happens.