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Part of civil rights lawsuit against Hagerstown may proceed, court rules

January 15, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — A federal appellate court has ruled that an African-American woman’s civil rights lawsuit against the city of Hagerstown may proceed on the grounds of gender harassment, but not racial harassment.

Tiffany Mosby-Grant alleged in her complaint that “an environment of severe, pervasive, and abusive discrimination on account of her race and/or gender” contributed to her failing the Western Maryland Police Academy in May 2006. The city’s police department runs the academy.

But Hagerstown Police Arthur Smith said Friday that Mosby-Grant was dropped from the academy because she didn’t pass a mandatory firearms proficiency test.

Mosby-Grant sued in 2007, alleging that she was “shunned” at the academy because she was African-American and female and that she suffered in an atmosphere of profanity, racial epithets and ridicule among other recruits.

Her lawsuit seeks $100,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages, plus interest, costs and attorney fees.

In 2009, a U.S. District Court granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the city, dismissing Mosby-Grant’s claims.

But last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling on racial harassment, but overturned the decision on gender harassment.

The appellate court sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings on the gender harassment complaint.

The appellate court’s decision was 2-1. Judges Roger Gregory and Damon J. Keith were in favor and Judge Paul V. Niemeyer was opposed.

“The work environment was severe or pervasive enough to sustain Mosby-Grant’s sex claim, but not her race claim,” the majority opinion says.

The opinion says Mosby-Grant reported her concerns to superiors on many occasions, but nothing changed.

In a dissenting opinion, Niemeyer wrote that there were only “a few isolated incidents occurring ‘because of’ Mosby-Grant’s sex ...”

Mosby-Grant only reported one incident in which gender-related harassment was directed at her and the incident wasn’t severe, the dissenting opinion says.

Mosby-Grant filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2006, before she filed her lawsuit. The EEOC ruled that it couldn’t find any violations of statutes and dismissed the complaint.

Mosby-Grant is listed in the lawsuit as a Hagerstown resident at the time it was filed in 2007. There was no phone directory listing for her on Friday.

One of her attorneys, Brian M. Maul, did not return a message left at his Frederick, Md., office on Friday.

An attorney representing the city of Hagerstown — Matthew Douglas Peter of the Local Government Insurance Trust in Hanover, Md. — also didn’t return a call for comment on Friday.

In her complaint, Mosby-Grant said she was the only African-American and only woman in a class of about 15 trainees.

She alleged that recruits sang a derogatory song, demeaned women during their domestic violence training, excluded her from class activities and frequently used racial epithets around her.

Her lawsuit says that psychological trauma, plus anxiety over problems with her weapon, led to her failing to get qualifying firearm scores.

The suit alleges that she was “set ... up for failure because she was an African-American female trainee in territory tightly guarded by Caucasian males.”

Smith disagreed on Friday.

“She was treated very well,” he said.

He said instructors gave Mosby-Grant “far more attention than anyone” as she tried to pass her firearms test.

Smith added that most of her complaints were aimed at the actions of fellow recruits.

Asked about comments and behavior alleged in the lawsuit, Smith said there’s a strict code of conduct at the academy, but young recruits might act differently during their personal time.

Smith said the Hagerstown Police Department has never had an African-American female officer that he knows of.

The department actively tries to hire minorities — through advertisements and by recruiting at historically black colleges and universities — but hasn’t had much success, Smith said.

“You can’t make people come to work,” he said.

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