Fired officer files discrimination claim

June 30, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

A Hagerstown woman who was fired in January from her job as a correctional officer when officials found there were nude photos of her published in a tattoo magazine filed a discrimination claim last week with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Marcie Betts, 22, began working at the medium security Roxbury Correctional Institution on Jan. 15, according to documents provided by her lawyer. On Jan. 29, she was given two weeks' notice of her firing.

Lawrence G. Walters, Betts' attorney, said the claim could result in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the federal government or the office could issue a "right-to-sue" letter, allowing Betts to file her own case.

One issue being taken up in the federal appeal, Walters said, is gender discrimination. Some of the photos in question were of Betts posing topless.


"A man, if he were to take those same pictures, would not be considered pornography," Walters said.

Walters also said nudity has been considered free speech under the First Amendment.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said in an e-mail Friday that "the Department did not take this case lightly at all."

His department oversees the Division of Correction.

"The termination happened only after extensive reviews," Vernarelli said.

He said that because the case is ongoing, he couldn't address specific issues about Betts' cases.

A separate administrative appeal has been scheduled for July 19 through the state's Office of Administrative Hearings. In that matter, Betts has asked to be reinstated as a correctional officer.

A closed hearing will be held at Roxbury, and an opinion will be issued within 45 days, said Judge Wayne Brooks, the deputy director of operations for the Office of Administrative Hearings.

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