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Two University of Maryland employees allege racial discrimination in lawsuit

Two University of Maryland employees filed a lawsuit this week against the state's flagship university in College Park alleging they were discriminated against because of their race.

Michael Bell and DuRay Jones, facilities management workers who are both black, said the university fostered a hostile working environment, retaliated when they complained about misconduct and inflicted emotional distress. The men are each seeking $1.5 million, according to the lawsuit.

The University System of Maryland and three facilities management officials are also named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

A spokesman for the university system declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

"Equitable employment is certainly policy and practice at this university, and it's also a priority," said Katie Lawson, a spokeswoman for the University of Maryland. "That being said, the university does not comment on ongoing litigation."

Christal Edwards, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said their lawsuit is just the latest symptom of a culture of racism on the College Park campus.

Earlier this year, white nationalist flyers were posted on school buildings and a noose was found hanging in a fraternity house kitchen. And last month, Richard W. Collins III, a black student from Bowie State University who was visiting friends at College Park, was stabbed to death by a white University of Maryland student. The student, Sean Urbanski, was a member of a white supremacist Facebook group, and officials said they were investigating the attack as a possible hate crime.

"The university has been able to function and get away with it for so long that it's readily accepted," Edwards said.

ProtectUMD, a coalition of student groups in College Park, has rallied in recent months against what they see as systemic racism on the campus. University President Wallace Loh announced a plan to combat hate following Collins'death, and has repeatedly denounced racism on campus.

"It is on all of us to stand up and fight the racism, extremism and hate that are cancers in our body politic," Loh said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges that university management treated Bell and Jones differently than their white counterparts.

"It's hard, emotionally, to have your supervisor treat you unfairly every day but still have to go into work to support your family," Edwards said.

Bell and Jones sent a letter to the human resources office in April 2013, outlining job safety concerns, the lawsuit states. University officials denied that Bell, a high-voltage electrician, and Jones, an electrical system reliability technician, were working outside their job descriptions, but the job title of a white coworker was changed, according to the lawsuit.

The next month, the lawsuit states, a supervisor noted on a performance review for the first time that Bell and Jones had communication problems.

The lawsuit also alleges that after someone broke into Jones' car and stole his work phone, he was written up and did not receive a new company phone. White employees who had similar experiences got new phones and were not admonished, according to the lawsuit.

Bell was written up for being late to work in March 2014, even though he had approved leave, while several white employees didn't suffer similar consequences for being late, the lawsuit states.

In April 2014, the two men sent another letter to the facilities management department asking them to address misconduct, but the lawsuit states that management took no action.

Later that year, photos of two wild mustang horses — bearing the names of Bell and Jones —were posted on the lunchroom employee board, the lawsuit states.

Bell and Jones were given outdoor assignments in "extreme heat" and "cold weather and snow" and white employees had indoor assignments, according to the lawsuit.

The university's actions caused "depression, humiliation and loss of daily enjoyment of life," according to the lawsuit.

Edwards represented another client in a similar lawsuit against the flagship university's facilities management department in 2012.

Abraham Goodwin alleged the university "continues to retaliate against me for exercising my rights to complain about racial discrimination that took place and continues to take place in the work place," according to court documents.

Goodwin settled with the university, Edwards said.

trichman@baltsun.com

@TaliRichman

An earlier version of this article misstated who Christal Edwards is representing in the lawsuit. She is representing the plaintiffs.

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