Gutwein v. Easton Pub. Co., 19

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation325 A.2d 740,272 Md. 563
Docket NumberNo. 19,19
Parties, 10 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 994, 85 A.L.R.3d 340, 8 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 9728 Paul D. GUTWEIN et al. v. EASTON PUBLISHING COMPANY.
Decision Date08 October 1974

Philip J. Tierney, Gen. Counsel and Elizabeth Holst Tockman, Asst. Gen., Counsel, Baltimore (Jacob J. Edelman and Edelman, Levy & Rubenstein, Baltimore, on the brief), for appellants.

C. Maurice Weidemeyer, and Basil E. Moore, Jr., Annapolis, for appellee. Argued before MURPHY, C. J., and SINGLEY, DIGGES, LEVINE, ELDRIDGE and O'DONNELL, JJ.

MURPHY, Chief Justice.

This appeal from an order of the Circuit Court for Talbot County reversing an order of the Maryland Commission on Human Relations raises important questions regarding the reach of the Commission's jurisdiction and the scope of its enforcement powers.

Maryland Code (1972 Repl. Vol.) Art. 49B entitled 'Human Relations Commission' makes provision in § 1 for a twelvemember Commission appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Commission is authorized by § 3 'to make such surveys and studies concerning human relations, conditions and problems as it may determine, and to promote in every way possible the betterment of human relations'; to recommend legislation; and to hold an investigatory hearing '(w)henever any problem of racial discrimination arises . . . (and) to resolve the problem promptly by the gathering of all the facts from all the interested parties and making such recommendations as may be necessary.' Discrimination in places of public accommodation is made unlawful by § 11; discrimination in employment is prohibited by § 19; and discrimination in housing is prohibited by § 22. Section 12 provides for the filing and issuance of complaints by and with the Commission, alleging discrimination prohibited by the provisions of Article 49B. Section 13 requires that the Commission investigate such complaints and if probable cause is found to believe that a discriminatory act has been committed, the Commission is enjoined 'to eliminate the discrimination by conference, conciliation and persuasion.' Section 14 provides that, failing voluntary agreement to eliminate the discrimination, the Commission shall hold a public hearing and require the respondent to answer the charges set forth in the complaint. Section 14(e), authorizing the Commission to issue 'Cease and Desist' orders, provides:

'If upon all the evidence, the Commission finds that the respondent has engaged in any discriminatory act within the scope of any of these subtitles, it shall so state its findings. The Commission thereupon shall issue and cause to be served upon the respondent in order requiring the respondent to cease and desist from the discriminatory acts and to take such affirmative action as will effectuate the purposes of the particular subtitle.'

Section 15 authorizes the Commission to institute litigation in the equity courts to compel compliance with its orders.

In pursuance of the provisions of Article 49B, the appellant Gutwein, a white male, filed a complaint with the Commission on August 20, 1969, alleging that his employer, appellee Easton Publishing Co. (Easton), had unlawfully terminated his employment as a news reporter when it learned that his fiancee was black. 1 Following an investigation and evidentiary hearing, the Commission concluded, by order dated March 8, 1973, that Easton had unlawfully discharged Gutwein from his employment in violation of the racial discrimination provisions of § 19(a) of Article 48B, which provide:

'It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer:

'(a) To fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, creed, sex, age or national origin.' (Emphasis added.)

The Commission found from the evidence adduced before its hearing tribunal that Gutwein 'was discharged (from his employment) for his association and relationship with his black girl friend.' The Commission ordered that Easton pay Gutwein the amount of $557.16, representing six weeks' loss of pay, and $50 for moving expenses.

On appeal by Easton, pursuant to the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, Article 41, §§ 244-256A, the circuit court reversed the Commission's order, holding that because § 19(a) only proscribed employment discrimination on account of 'such individual's race,' and since Gutwein's discharge from Easton's employ 'involved not his own race, but rather his fiancee's,' the provisions of the section were not applicable to Gutwein's termination. The court further held that while there was substantial evidence 'that a major reason for Gutwein's termination was the employer's discovery that (he being white) his fiancee was black,' the termination 'was not discriminatory and . . . the employer has not been guilty of an unlawful employment practice.' The court concluded that since Gutwein failed to prove any redressable injury, 'compensatory damages could not have accrued.'

The Commission and Gutwein each appealed, raising these questions:

1. Was the finding of an administrative agency that a white male was terminated from his employment because of his interracial association with a black female based upon substantial evidence?

2. Can a white male lawfully be terminated from his employment because of his interracial association with a black female?

3. Does the Human Relations Commission possess authority to award compensatory damages upon a finding of employment discrimination?


The evidence before the Commission concerning the reason for Gutwein's termination from Easton's employment was in sharp conflict. There was substantial evidence to deomonstrate that Gutwein's discharge was triggered by improper job performance, poor work ability, a slovenly appearance, a bad attitude, and deficiencies in his personal conduct unassociated with the race of his fiancee. There was other evidence, equally substantial if believed, tending to show that Gutwein's employment was ended when Easton learned of his relationship with his black fiancee in the town of Easton. The Commission found as a fact from the evidence adduced at the hearing that it was the latter reason which precipitated Easton's action in terminating Gutwein's employment. Being supported by substantial evidence, the Commission's finding should have been accepted by the circuit court. See Grosman v. Real Estate Comm'n, 267 Md. 259, 297 A.2d 257 (1972); Bernstein v. Real Estate Comm., 221 Md. 221, 156 A.2d 657 (1959); Article 41, § 255.


As heretofore indicated, § 19(a) makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer 'to discharge any individual . . . because of such individual's race . . ..' Appellants maintain that this provision reaches racial discrimination however manifested and protects all persons from discriminatory practices. Easton maintains that the lower court was correct in concluding that it was the race of Gutwein's fiancee that triggered his termination, and not his own race, and that consequently § 19(a) has no applicability to the facts of this case. We think instances of discrimination in employment involving, as here, the termination of a white complainant's employment because of his association with his black fiancee are plainly within the contemplation and coverage of § 19(a). The race of Gutwein's fiancee was manifestly not the only reason for his dismissal; rather his employment was terminated because he was white and was intimately associated with a black woman, a relationship so offensive to Easton as to cause it to discharge Gutwein from his position. 2


The enforcement powers vested in the Commission, contained in § 14(e), authorize it to issue 'an order requiring the respondent to cease and desist from the discriminatory acts and to take such affirmative action as will effectuate the purposes of the particular subtitle.' The appellants claim that the purpose of this provision is 'to make whole victims of discrimination as well as insure against future unlwful conduct.' They contend that the Commission's authority to order 'affirmative action' is identical to that contained in virtually all civil rights laws, state and federal, and that such laws have been interpreted 'expansively' to permit the payment of compensatory damages to victims of discrimination.

We note at the outset that the 'affirmative action' provision in § 14(e) is tied to 'the purposes of the particular subtitle.' Section 17 of Article 49B sets forth the purpose of the subtitle on 'Discrimination in Employment' as follows:

'It is hereby declared to be the policy of the State of Maryland, in the exercise of its police power for the protection of the public safety, public health and general welfare, for the maintenance of business and good government and for the promotion of the State's trade, commerce and manufacturers to assure all persons equal opportunity in receiving employment and in all labor managementunion relations regardless of race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin, sex, or age, and to that end to prohibit discrimination in employment by any person, group, labor organization, organization or any employer or his agents.' (Emphasis added.)

Neither § 17 § 14(e) speaks in terms of remedying the 'effects' of employment discrimination, or of preventing economic loss, redressing individual rights or compensating victims of discrimination. Section 17 is plainly couched in prohibitory and not compensatory terms.

Unlike § 14(e) of Article 49B, Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act has a separate enforcement provision (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-5(g)) relating to discriminatory employment practices and the remedies authorized therein are court-enforced. The federal law provides:

'(g) If the court finds that the respondent has...

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