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Judge to hear bias case against Suns

April 15, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

A year after a Waynesboro, Pa., man first claimed discrimination over the Hagerstown Suns' "Church Bulletin Days" promotion, he and the ball club are no closer to a settlement and are heading toward a hearing before an administrative law judge next week.

Meanwhile, the controversial promotion returns to Hagerstown with the team's first Sunday game at Municipal Stadium this weekend.

On April 12, 1998, Carl Silverman asked that he and his two daughters be admitted to a Suns game at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown for the $6 discounted price even though he did not have a church bulletin.

The Church Bulletin Day promotion, in place for the past five seasons, offers families of up to six people a group admission price of $6 if they present a church bulletin when arriving for a Sunday home game.

Silverman was not given the discount, and filed a complaint with the state contending the policy discriminates against him because he is an atheist.

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In March, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations filed a statement of charges agreeing with Silverman, initiating the process expected to culminate in a public hearing and judge's ruling on the matter.

Patricia Wood, assistant general counsel in the Maryland Commission on Human Relations, said both sides have until Friday to submit written statements outlining their positions and arguments to an administrative law judge.

A preliminary hearing will be held April 23 in Hunt Valley, Md. That hearing, expected to be before Administrative Law Judge Georgia Powell, will be closed to the public.

During the preliminary hearing, Powell will see whether a settlement can be reached, or she may decide to schedule a public hearing on the matter, Wood said.

She said the public hearing could be held in as soon as six weeks, and would be held somewhere in Washington County.

Both Suns owner Winston Blenckstone and Silverman said they believe a settlement is unlikely.

"It sounds as if we're so far down the road, we're going to have a hearing," Blenckstone said.

He said the promotion will be offered again this season and will end only if a judge orders him to stop.

If the matter goes to a public hearing, a judge could rule in favor of the Suns and allow the team to continue the policy, or the judge could order the Suns to cease and desist, and pay a fine of up to $500, or order team officials to go to sensitivity training.

Silverman also filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Suns in U.S. District Court in Baltimore last August.

He said the lawsuit has been postponed pending a ruling by the state.

The Suns are a Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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