ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Board of Public Works agreed Wednesday to pay a $210,000 award to settle a 1994 lawsuit against the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by Black Officers’ Association Inc. on behalf of five African-American DNR employees. It charged that department officials had discriminated against black Natural Resource Police officers through harassment and failure to promote.
Both parties agreed to negotiate through a federal mediator earlier this year. The settlement was reached after “extensive negotiations lasting more than 100 hours” between the department and association officials, said Ron Young, DNR deputy secretary.
The award will be paid out in three parts:
* $30,000 to the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union;
* $30,000 to Elliott Andalman, who represented the officers involved in the lawsuit; and
* $150,000 to the Black Officers’ Association.
Young told the Board of Public Works that the department had taken steps to correct problems that led to the lawsuit. These include the naming of a fair practices officer and new requirements that complaints about officers be made in writing and that the subjects of such complaints be notified promptly.
In addition, once the settlement agreement is finalized, hiring, promotions and investigations will be reviewed by the fair practices officer. Finally, the federal mediation team will review the DNR’s compliance with the agreement for 18 months.
“We will try to see that this type of thing won’t happen again,” Young said. “We are not going to tolerate the conditions that happened before.”
Andalman, testifying before the board, supported the award.
“We support the consent degree that was reached,” he said. “The negotiations were very difficult based on the nature of the problem … with a new superintendent leading the department and the commitment of the current leadership, we look forward to a new day.”
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, while agreeing to the award, said the state’s policy of paying out awards for its employees should be reviewed.
“Everyone must understand that the state is against any kind of discriminating practice,” Glendening said. “But there are a number of cases that have come before the board where Maryland citizens are paying for the patterns of bad behavior.”
He said that he has raised the issue of making employees found to violate civil rights laws financially responsible for their actions.
“When an employee acts outside of state and federal law and the guidelines of their department, I believe that employee should be held accountable,” Glendening said. “Some people have acted inappropriately for almost a decade in this case, and we’ll have to punish the taxpayers.” The department will have $150,000 removed from its budget to help pay the award, and the remainder will come from the State Insurance Trust Fund. -30-