WASHINGTON – A federal judge has dismissed a racial discrimination suit against Baltimore Orioles player Cal Ripken Jr. and his wife that was brought by a former groundskeeper at the couple’s 25-acre Baltimore County estate.
U.S. District Judge Benson Everett Legg, in dismissing the suit, found that Roger Johnson Jr. was not as qualified as other applicants for the estate manager job he sought and that the Ripkens’ decision was based on merits, not race.
The decision was hailed by the Ripkens’ attorney, who said the suit “bordered on the ridiculous” and had not a “scintilla of evidence” to support it.
Johnson began working for Cal and Kelly Ripken in 1992, doing odd jobs around their sprawling estate, according to court documents.
Beginning in 1996, the Ripkens hired a series of white estate managers. Johnson, who is black, stayed on as a handyman until “friction” developed between him and the third estate manager, Scott Kuster. When Johnson told Ripken that he could not work with Kuster, court documents said, Ripken fired Johnson.
Johnson filed suit in January 1999, claiming that he was denied the position of estate manager because of his race and seeking $2.99 billion in damages from the Ripkens. He later amended his suit to ask for $100,000.
The case was filed in federal court because Johnson alleged violations of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act.
But Legg concluded that the reason Johnson was not hired for the estate manager’s job was because his “qualifications pale in comparison” to three other applicants for the position.
“There is considerable undisputed evidence that (the others) had demonstrably superior qualifications and experience,” Judge Legg wrote in his Wednesday decision. Legg also found no evidence of racial discrimination by the Ripkens toward Johnson.
“Based on this insubstantial evidence, no reasonable jury could find that the Ripkens’ reason for not promoting Johnson was a pretext for racial discrimination,” he wrote.
“In fact, the Ripkens gave Mr. Johnson a car, tickets to baseball games, and a wedding gift of $5,000. The record is simply barren of any evidence that the Ripkens made any decisions regarding Mr. Johnson based upon racial animus,” Legg wrote.
The attorney representing the Ripkens, Paul Mark Sandler, praised the judge’s decision.
“The case was devoid of merit. It bordered on the ridiculous,” Sandler said in a prepared statement. “The court did not find a scintilla of evidence supporting the plaintiff and properly dismissed the case.”
Neither Johnson nor his attorney could be reached for comment Friday.