WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal Monday of a white veteran cop who said Howard County officials violated his civil rights when they passed over his job application in favor of women and minority candidates.
Michael Matthews, who now works as a civilian employee in the Montgomery County Police Department, said Howard County used unfair affirmative action practices to toss out applications from white, male job seekers in 1995.
“I believe that I am the casualty of a well-intended but misapplied affirmative action plan,” Matthews wrote in a 1996 letter to the county.
Howard County officials have since acknowledged that they were following discriminatory hiring practices when they decided not to offer Matthews a spot on the county’s police force. The police department had 26 vacancies at the time and wanted to hire more women and minority officers to better reflect the makeup of the community.
But Howard County officials say it doesn’t matter if their hiring practices were discriminatory, because Matthews wouldn’t have been hired anyway. Fifty white male candidates scored better than Matthews in interviews and likely would have been hired before him.
Lower courts, including the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, agreed with Howard County. Matthews appealed to the Supreme Court, but the justices declined to get involved Monday, letting the federal appeals court ruling stand.
Louis Ruzzi, senior assistant solicitor for Howard County government, declined to discuss the specifics of the case. But Ruzzi said he did not expect the high court to take on Matthews’ case, primarily because the appellate ruling was unsigned, which often is interpreted as not setting a precedent.
Howard County officials have since reached an agreement with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to stop using the 1995 hiring practices, which were deemed too broad.
Matthews already had 26 years of experience as a Washington, D.C., police officer when he applied for a spot on the Howard County force in 1995.
He is no longer seeking a job as a Howard County cop. Since his court case began, Matthews has been in two traffic accidents and doesn’t think he could pass the department’s physical, said Theodore Cooperstein, his attorney.
However, Matthews sought compensatory damages for emotional distress, mental anguish and damage to his reputation. Howard County’s rejection of his application left a “significant cloud of doubt” over Matthews’ professional qualifications, making it difficult for several months for him to find work, Cooperstein said.
Matthews now is a civilian employee doing background checks for the Montgomery County Police Department, Cooperstein said.
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