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Fired manager sues Howard County for alleged discrimination

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

A fired Howard County government manager is suing the county in federal court for alleged discrimination.

Daryl Paunil, 61, of Silver Spring, was the chief of the Bureau of Facilities in the county’s Department of Public Works, from April 2014 to Oct. 8, 2017, when he was terminated, days after he received a county leadership award.

Paunil, who is of Filipino descent, claims he was treated differently than four other bureau chiefs, and was the only one required to have monthly meetings with Nancy Gray, the deputy to the county’s chief administrative officer, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Paunil’s job, which his lawyer said had a compensation package worth $161,000 a year, focused on capital planning for the county, including any major construction project other than new schools, master planning, renovations and overseeing the operations of the county’s management facilities.

The county hasn’t received a copy of the lawsuit “and does not comment on threatened or pending litigation,” Mark S. Miller, a county spokesman, said last week.

The lawsuit was also filed against two county employees in their official and individual capacities, Gray and Chief Administrative Officer Lonnie Robbins.

A spokesman said Gray and Robbins have no comment.

Paunil claims that while he received positive job evaluations, he received pushback when he tried to streamline the county’s approach to preventive maintenance by developing operation and maintenance contracts, according to the lawsuit.

Robbins and Gray didn’t allow the contracts to put in place, “because they believed it would cause political issues between the union and County Executive [Allan Kittleman],” the lawsuit claims.

Kittleman is not a defendant and his name appears in the lawsuit in connection with Paunil’s assertion of political overtones in decision making. A Kittleman aide said his office does not comment on pending litigation.

Paunil was replaced by a white man with less experience and fewer qualifications for the job, the lawsuit said.

Days before he was terminated, Paunil received a Leadership Award, part of the county government’s 2017 Employee Awards Program, according to the county’s website.

“It came as a shock,” Paunil said in a telephone interview. “I liked being the bureau chief .. I loved what I was doing.”

Paunil’s performance was rated “outstanding and exceeds standards,” by the county in 2015, 2016 and 2017, according to the lawsuit.

Paunil filed a discrimination claim against the county with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on July 11, according to the lawsuit, and received an EEOC “notice of right to sue” on Sept. 27.

The EEOC enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against an employee or job applicant based on the person’s race, color, age, disability, religion, national origin, sex [including pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation], according to the EEOC’s website.An EEOC spokesman did not return a request for comment.

Paunil had an “at-will relationship,” with the county, meaning he could be dismissed from his position for any reason.

The case was filed in federal court, instead of county’s circuit court, because it claims that the county, Gray and Robbins violated sections of the federal Civil Rights Acts, according to Nicholas Woodfield, one of Paunil’s attorneys.

Paunil is requesting reinstatement and unspecified compensation for damages, including emotional distress damages, economic damages, including front pay and back pay, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs and “any other relief,” the court sees fit, according to the lawsuit. Paunil is not requesting a specific monetary amount at this time, Woodfield said.

Ninety-five of the county’s 2,716 full-time employees are Asian, where the ethnicity of Filipino falls under according to the U.S. Census Bureau, according to county data obtained through a public information request. In the past four years, two employment discrimination civil complaints have been filed against the county, according to the county’s Office of Law.

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