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Baltimore County Settles 10 DOJ Disability Cases

Consent decree filed in federal court includes $500,000 in damages and fees and requires three years of monitoring by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

UPDATE (2:18 p.m.)—Baltimore County will pay more than $500,000 in compensatory damages to nine county employees who alleged the county subjected them to illegal medical reviews and a 10th who advised the county that such exams might be illegal, according to a federal consent decree made public today.

The medical reviews of the employees—ordered by the county—included fitness-for-duty and pre-hiring screenings that were then used to fire or force the retirement of some employees or exclude prospective employees from being hired. The consent decree alleges that the county used those tests, dating back to 2006, to engage in a "pattern and practice of discrimination." 

“The result of the county’s discriminatory policies and practices was to force employees, including veteran police officers and firefighters, to submit to invasive and unjustified medical examinations and inquiries,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement released Tuesday.  “The ADA does not tolerate this type of conduct and neither does the Justice Department.”

The damages are part of a consent decree entered into by the county and the U.S. Department of Justice Monday. The order also includes back retirement benefits for the family of one retired county firefighter who later died from cancer that was related to his job and another prospective firefighter who will now be admited to the training academy and receive back pay.

All ten clients were represented by Kathleen Cahill, a Towson-based labor attorney.

"Rather than honor their service and sacrifice, the county turned on workers with medical conditions or illness or injuries or disabilities," Cahill said in a statement released Tuesday. "That’s just wrong and it’s illegal – and it did not save money nor did it make us safer, as the County claimed. So today, justice and the right to work prevail.”

As part of the settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the county did not acknowledge that it acted illegally but agreed to settle the cases.

Don Mohler, a county spokesman, referred a reporter to a statement posted on the county website by County Attorny Michael Field.

"The fact that the County has entered into this Consent Decree should in no way be considered as evidence of guilt or liability that it has violated the law in any way," Field wrote, adding that the county settled to prevent a larger expense to county taxpayers.

"In this age of multi-million dollar judgments and soaring attorney's fees, the County must consider the potential cost to taxpayers of litigating against the federal government—an ordeal that would have been lengthy and costly, even if the County ultimately prevailed," Field wrote. "So with County taxpayers in mind, Baltimore County agreed to resolve 10 of the 13 cases at a cost of approximately $475,000, with an additional $30,000 in attorneys’ fees, which was the cost of compromise necessary to settle the case and fully resolve these 10 claims."

As part of the agreement, The county agrees to:

  • Not discriminate against any current or prospective employee.
  • Not require employees to submit to medical exams that are not required for all applicants hired for the same position.
  • Train its current supervisors in the Americans with Disabilities and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Acts within 120 days of the judge’s order.
  • Update all its policies for fitness-for-duty medical examinations.
  • Not automatically exclude applicants who have diabetes mellitus.

The county also agrees to stop using the physician common to all the cases.

The agreement requires the county to submit reports on its efforts every six months for the next three years. Failure to abide by the agreement could result in additional penalties including a contempt of court ruling.

"These hard-working, dedicated people have finally been provided some compensation for the illegal treatment they endured,". Cahill said in her statement. "They are relieved to have reached that finish line and now just want to do their jobs undeterred."

Three other employees—two firefighters and a police officer—who lost their jobs were not included in the settlement. Cahill said those clients will file suit against the county. She hinted there could be additional lawsuits.

“There are many more employees, former employees, and qualified applicants, impacted by this scheme, and many related cases yet to be resolved," Cahill said in her statement. "While some jobs have been saved, numerous jobs have been lost. With our pursuit of justice in full in the courts for these remaining workers, coupled with the Department of Justice enforcement, Baltimore County government should finally get the message to comply with the ADA and let these people get to work."

Field, in his statement, said the remaining three employees "made settlement demands that the County believed were unreasonable based upon the facts of those cases.

"Should any of those complainants choose to file suit, the County law office will vigorously defend those cases on the merits, and it is not anticipated that outside attorneys will be hired to assist in those cases," Field wrote. "As part of this agreement, DOJ agrees not to participate in the other three cases should those cases move forward."

Stay with Patch as more details develop.

roy b August 07, 2012 at 05:38 PM
more of the taxpayers money spent to settle for poor decisions....imagine that
Roy C August 07, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Maybe its time someone above the level of peon was held accountable in county government
Kathleen Walther August 07, 2012 at 06:16 PM
This ought to apply to the county public school system as well, which has had some similar requirements of veteran employees with already well documented disabilities.
Greg Redmer August 07, 2012 at 06:17 PM
And the man responsible still sits at the right hand of the throne and won't be punished at all. Not to mention Chief Sheridan who conveniently moved on to the state before he had a chance to be fired. Should be punished for his deposition alone.
John L. August 07, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Typical Baltimore County shenanigans, they dispute everything just to delay doing the right thing.They cost the taxpayers a fortune taking everything to Court. It is time the County and a certain person sitting at the 'right hand of the throne' to use common sense and stop the BS that costs so much money. Ths County is not his to do with what he wishes but he certainly acts like it and gets away with it.
JDStuts August 07, 2012 at 07:32 PM
It sounds more and more like KK is the right hand. Throne is an excellent choice considering an unelected official seems to be running our county however he seems fit. And if there is a price to be paid for that, let the taxpayers foot the bill.
fred August 07, 2012 at 07:37 PM
the now removed doctor that made all these decisions should open up ,name the ones where the discrimination came from. the county executive should take action and remove these people, he knows who made these decisions. the county is not paying out for making the correct choice no matter what they admit to.
Steve August 07, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Sounds like you guys missed this part. "The fact that the County has entered into this Consent Decree should in no way be considered as evidence of guilt or liability that it has violated the law in any way,"
Anne August 07, 2012 at 08:40 PM
The "removed doctor" should lose his license to practice medicine. As far as KK, his hands are just as dirty as the man who made all of these decisions. KK is just a figure head for Baltimore County, he has no real power, its all about Fred.
JDStuts August 07, 2012 at 08:55 PM
"In this age of multi-million dollar judgments and soaring attorney's fees, the County must consider the potential cost to taxpayers of litigating against the federal government—an ordeal that would have been lengthy and costly, even if the County ultimately prevailed" But wait! "Should any of those complainants choose to file suit, the County law office will vigorously defend those cases on the merits, and it is not anticipated that outside attorneys will be hired to assist in those cases," Field wrote. Field's a nice guy and he aims to please but as his release shows he's not the sharpest guy in the room. Price point litigation is the norm. But if you can't secure a non disclosure agreement and the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division issues a release saying the DOJ doesn't tolerate your conduct. Its probably not because you were doing everything super swell. Using Field's words to excuse Field's actions which he then goes and contradicts? That wouldn't pass muster in 1L.
charles richardson August 07, 2012 at 09:16 PM
I think he was talking about the 3 remaining cases that the DOJ will not be a party to. While this is not good for the county it isn't a total loss either. Let's look at the raw numbers, 10 settlements for $500,000. That's not much given today's litigious society. I believe the quotes from all involved were anticipated. It will be interesting to see what happens to the other 3 cases since the DOJ has stepped away. Those 3 are on their own. I think we should all remember all municipalities get sued on a fairly regular basis. Everyone believes that they may have been wronged, grab an attorney who'll work on a contingent fee and off you go to court. So getting sued isn't that unusual. Having the DOJ certainly brings another aspect into the case and reading between the lines was a deciding factor with the county settling. I'll be very interested in hearing what the employees think and not just their attorney speaking for them. Did they think it was a fair settlement?
Trixie Leigh August 07, 2012 at 09:41 PM
When my son lost his job with the County several years ago due to his disability, all we wanted was to get his job back, but the County, in their own words, would not because they didn't want him around high powered equipment. But because the EEOC dragged their feet after they first found nothing wrong, our window of opportunity left for a second opinion. We got our second opinion after the EEOC investigator was either fired or quit and the new investigator found in our favor. We didn't want money. We wanted him reinstated. They hired him knowing about his disability because they needed his medical records before they would hire him. After we begged and begged with the County sending letters to the head of HR among others, his old department sent him in for a workability evaluation with the County doctor, who also said my son would be ok for work. But before the County even got that report, they had already made up their minds and wrote him a nice thanks but no thanks letter dated the day before the medical records were even received by the County. All those other folks who were fired due to their disability, would have liked their jobs back too, but someone was too stubborn to let that happen. Now it will cost the County, not only monetary, but reputation as well.
fred August 07, 2012 at 09:51 PM
they do have one big thing on their side, a dirty doctor who professed to the counties discrimination, the county will settle these suits also because they don't want the doctor naming names.
charles richardson August 07, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Trixie, your side of the story is heart wrenching to say the least. I'm sure the county has their side but due to legal restrictions will not air them publicly, therefore we are left with only one version the story,yours. I'm not saying your version isn't true,it very well may be, but only the participants involved know what happened and one side is prohibited from talking. I hope everyone gets a chance to read the statement from Mike Field on the Patch. While the county settled these cases and all of those wronged or thought to be wronged had their day,they (10) are now compensated. I hope their attorney isn't getting $30,000 from the county and another 33 1/3% from the settlement. If that's the case the employees were wronged again only this time they can't go to court . Out of 17,000 employees there are 13 cases, 10 settled and 3 in limbo. Given the size of the workforce and the number of litigants this seems to be exception and not the rule. I do not for one minute suggest these 10 or 13 weren't somehow wronged, but to cast a net over the county that this is a wide scale practice, well the numbers just don't support that position. It appears the county made the financial decision it could at the time and probably did save money in the long run. How many cases actually get to court, most are settled out of court, ask your insurance companies. The cost of settlement is less than the cost to defend. Right or wrong it's what we live with.
fred August 07, 2012 at 11:06 PM
you can't keep piling federal investigations on balto co without something being amiss there is another federal look into their hiring and promotion practices in the police and fire depts. it does not matter the number of employees or the number of cases, if there is just one and the county discriminated then they are guilt of infringing on someones rights.
charles richardson August 07, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Yes ,one could draw that conclusion. However in any organization with 17,000 employees the numbers do not suggest widescale descriminatory practices.
Trixie Leigh August 07, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Charles, we have it in the County's own writing, to the EEOC as well. FYI.
Arlow August 08, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Of course this comes on top of the million dollar settlement in the Blake case, one of those who sued under ADA and won months back according to the Patch. And as far as not admitting they did wrong, the fact is the DOJ said the County did wrong, and the County is making changes. Why make changes if everything you did did not violate ADA? And the County is also being examined by the DOJ for discrimination in promotions. This is not a pattern? Mohler's condescending response is just trying to put makeup on a black eye, or an Alford Plea. And this isn't discrimination as much as it's retribution. And I'm not sure where you're getting 17,000 employees, Charles. I doubt it's that many.
charles richardson August 08, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Read the statement on Patch from Mike Field. If the number's 12,000 it still doesn't speak to a conspiracy of discrimination. The fact they are changing processes doesn't send up red flags either. After your practices are examined in a courtroom and found deficient it would worry me more if the policies didn't change.Many times policies are sent before a third party to help settle disputes, that's why we have courts. Why do suggest condescension in the response? It was a legal matter and the county attorney spoke to the legal issues. That makes sense doesn't it. If Mr. Mohler was an attorney, maybe he is, then I would suggest he speak to it. He defferred to the head attorney for Baltimore County. I think your grasping at straws on that one.
Ron Burgundy August 08, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Can't wait 'till Buzz gets started on this, he's probably got blisters. Lets stop it before it starts, no Buzz, you didn't tell us so and this isn't the end of the world for the county. No one ever likes to lose but this is far from losing some major court case. So save the rants.
fred August 08, 2012 at 01:13 AM
you are quite blind to what the feds comments are, you must be a county attorney.
DS August 08, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Good for them - that's the only way to get ahead these days is to sue......don't blame them. I'll await the tax increase for this. Thank you
Arlow August 08, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Well, Charles, nothing changes the fact that a governing body found them guilty. Lots of prisoners protest they're innocent after being found guilty. The County has been told by the DOJ what steps they need to take, else face additional penalties or even be held in contempt of court. That doesn't sound like the kind of ruling you'd expect if the County did not break the law. And since Mr. Fields had his day and court, and lost, his opinion really does not have any bearing on what the decision was, since the DOJ rejected it. And I don't even think it's 12,000 employees, either. If you didn't know how many, why did you say 17,000? Just grasping at straws to bolster your case?
Zoobie August 08, 2012 at 06:28 AM
$500K's just a drop in the proverbial 'Bucket'! A few more Speed Cameras, and a Property Tax Hike will more than cover it OOOOOOOOH Yeah !!!
Lee August 08, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Baltimore County has a long history with ADA violations and civil rights complaints. This settlement represents only a few victims.
charles richardson August 08, 2012 at 11:53 PM
To Fred, no I'm not an attorney just a longtime Perry Hall outside gov't.employee. To Arlow, I just read the statement on Patch submitted by the county attorney,Mike Field. I used his numbers. I did not do the research to confirm or deny I just took them on his word that those were the numbers. I have no axe to grind other then be a taxpaying citizen. Obviously the county was charged, and will pay for violations the DOJ says they violated. I get that. Now lets turn the tables, just for one second. How many employees illegally collect std, ltd, workmans comp etc. Out of 12 or 17,0000 employees I would believe the number is far greater than 13. Right, of course not. Does it give the county any reason to violate laws, certainly not. The county has a right to protect their citizens, maybe, just maybe the disability could have led to a huge financial settlement because one of our fire or police were found not ready for duty and some citizen was injured. That scenario is not that far fetched. It's a delicate balance they walk. They are paying for their mistakes and hopefully they won't be repeated. It's still not proven it's a wide-scale indictment of bad behaviour.
Steve August 10, 2012 at 03:12 AM
LOL "..... humane face" This is funny as all get out!
Buzz Beeler August 10, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Ron, I am doing a blog for you on one of your previous comments. Better have a bottle of Tums at your side. I am also going to put a humane face on these types of cases. There is a difference between a job and a vocation. Your comments spur me on. I can do nice things though just take as look. http://dundalk.patch.com/blog_posts/eastfieldstanbrook-national-night-out-brings-together-community-government Did I hear you say this is far from losing? I'm sorry the county is awash in funds so what's another $530,000 plus more cases pending. To us taxpayers that is not chump change but salaries for more teachers to fight those overcrowded classrooms.

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