Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Com'n v. Crawford

Decision Date01 September 1984
Docket NumberMARYLAND-NATIONAL,Nos. 110,121,s. 110
Citation307 Md. 1,511 A.2d 1079
Parties, 41 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 36,420 TheCAPITAL PARK AND PLANNING COMMISSION et al. v. Elsie CRAWFORD. TheCAPITAL PARK AND PLANNING COMMISSION v. Elsie CRAWFORD. ,
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Arthur S. Drea, Jr., Gen. Counsel and D.S. Sastri, Thurman H. Rhodes, Associate Gen. Counsel, on brief, Hyattsville, for appellants.

Stephen H. Sachs, Atty. Gen., Diana G. Motz, Asst. Atty. Gen., Kathryn M. Rowe, Staff Atty., Robert A. Zarnoch, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore, on brief for amicus curiae State of Md.

Risselle Rosenthal, Fleisher, Gen. Counsel, Baltimore, on brief for amicus curiae State of Md. Com'n on Human Relations.

Karl G. Feissner and John E. Beckman, Eric S. Slatkin and Feissner & Beckman, on brief, Langley Park, for appellee.

Argued Before MURPHY, C.J., SMITH, ELDRIDGE, COLE, RODOWSKY, JJ., and CHARLES E. ORTH, Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland (retired) and JAMES C. MORTON, Jr., Associate Judge of the Court of Special Appeals (retired), Specially Assigned.

ELDRIDGE, Judge.

Elsie M. Crawford brought this action for damages and injunctive relief against her employer, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and three officers thereof, after she had been denied an employment transfer allegedly because of her race. She specifically grounded her action on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and on the Maryland Constitution. The Circuit Court for Prince George's County (Bowen, J.), sitting without a jury, found that the plaintiff had been denied her Fourteenth Amendment rights and was entitled to relief under § 1983, awarded her $500 in damages, ordered the Commission to grant the transfer, and awarded counsel fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The Commission appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed the judgment of the trial court. We granted the Commission's petition for a writ of certiorari, which raised questions as to whether Mrs. Crawford properly exhausted her administrative remedies and whether she had been wrongfully discriminated against. A separate appeal concerns the counsel fees awarded by the trial court.

I.

The pertinent facts are as follows. Elsie M. Crawford is employed as a secretary, grade III, at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. In August 1982 she applied for a transfer to a vacant position at the same grade in the History Division of the Department of Parks and Recreation, which is a part of the Commission. Two months later a three member interview panel, chaired by the Coordinator of the History Division, interviewed Mrs. Crawford and three other applicants. The panel unanimously ranked Mrs. Crawford as first choice, followed by Nadine Callahan. The chairman of the interview panel forwarded the results of the interviewing process through the hierarchy of officials responsible for hiring. Later, the personnel manager sent Mrs. Crawford a memorandum stating that she had not been selected. Ms. Callahan was hired instead. Ms. Callahan is black, and Mrs. Crawford is white.

The Commission maintained a so-called "affirmative action plan" until December 1984. This plan grew out of charges brought in 1977 against the Commission by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C.) on behalf of two employees. The record does not disclose the nature of these charges, but the E.E.O.C. investigated and apparently found "reasonable cause" to pursue them. The investigation yielded a "conciliation agreement" executed by the Executive Director of the Commission and by three persons at the E.E.O.C., an Equal Opportunity Specialist, a Supervisor of Compliance and an acting District Director.

The conciliation agreement formed part of the Commission's Exhibit No. 1 in the circuit court. It contains no findings as to discriminatory practices at the Commission, and expressly states that the Commission admits no violations of the law. The agreement does contain the assertion that the Commission's "change rooms" have been desegregated since 1974 and that promotional vacancy announcements are equally accessible to all employees. The gist of the agreement is a commitment on the part of the Commission to follow non-discriminatory personnel policies, and to make good faith efforts to employ minority employees in all job categories in proportion to their representation in the regional workforce by 1980. The good faith efforts were defined to include the use of annual numerical hiring goals.

By 1980 the Commission had not met its goal of proportional representation in all job categories. The E.E.O.C. reviewed the progress reported quarterly under the conciliation agreement, made an "on-site visit review," and the parties entered a four year extension agreement. This agreement bears the signatures of the Executive Director of the Commission and three persons at the E.E.O.C., including a District Director. The extension agreement contains specific numerical goals for various job categories, but its core is the following:

"Respondent agrees that until the goals for black/minority hiring and promotions mutually agreed upon by the Commission and Respondent on December 15, 1980, are met, one black/minority applicant shall be hired or promoted for each non-minority applicant who is hired or promoted for all vacant positions...."

This "one-for-one rule" provides for exceptions when no minority candidate responds to recruitment, and when the non-minority candidate is "clearly superior." The extension agreement expired in December 1984.

The record shows that the affirmative action plan shaped the decision not to grant Mrs. Crawford's transfer request, although it is not clear from the record how the transfer of an employee from one position to another in the same grade could affect the Commission's compliance with the affirmative action plan. The chairman of the interview panel discussed the requirements of the plan with hiring officials before recommending Mrs. Crawford as "clearly more qualified," and the hiring officials considered the plan's requirements before deciding to pass over Mrs. Crawford.

Upon being denied the transfer, Mrs. Crawford obtained counsel and filed an administrative grievance within the Commission, alleging that she has been denied the transfer solely because of her race. The Commission answered, speaking through Hugh Robey, Director of the Parks and Recreation Department. Mr. Robey found that the interview panel had listed Mrs. Crawford as first choice but also had considered Ms. Callahan qualified. Mr. Robey further stated that the decision to hire Ms. Callahan accorded with the terms of the Commission's affirmative action plan. Based on this conclusion, he denied the grievance. Mrs. Crawford then appealed to the Executive Director of the Commission.

While her appeal to the Executive Director was pending, and before exhausting the final stage of the administrative grievance procedure by appealing any adverse decision by the Executive Director to the Commission's Merit System Board, Mrs. Crawford filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. 1

Four days after Mrs. Crawford filed suit, the Executive Director issued his memorandum decision, which essentially restated the determination made earlier by Mr. Robey. Mrs. Crawford then took her final internal administrative appeal, this time to the Merit System Board of the Commission, in accordance with the Board's rules for grievances. On April 15, 1983, the Merit System Board rendered its final decision, stating as follows:

"Race was a determining factor in the non-selection of the appellant. The use of race in the selection for the position in question was not inconsistent with existing rules, practices, and policies of the Commission in the context of related case law."

The Board's rationale for this decision was that the Commission's affirmative action plan authorized, but did not require, a preference for minority candidates on a list of qualified candidates.

While the appeal to the Merit System Board was still pending, the Commission filed in the circuit court a demurrer to Mrs. Crawford's action on the ground that exhaustion of administrative remedies must occur before the court may exercise jurisdiction. The circuit court held a hearing on March 7, 1983, and subsequently overruled the demurrer. The court issued orders on April 12, 1983, directing the Commission not to alter evidence or influence potential testimony in the case. Otherwise, the court did nothing in the matter until after the Merit Board's decision.

After the Merit System Board's final decision on April 15, 1983, the defendants filed a motion raising preliminary objection, asserting that they were immune from suit. In the memoranda supporting the motion, the Commission claimed immunity from the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action on the ground that it was a state agency and not a local government agency. With regard to the plaintiff's state law action, the Commission contended that it was entitled to sovereign immunity as a state agency under Maryland law. It was further argued that, as the actions taken by the individual defendants "were taken in their official capacity and within the scope of their public duties," the individual defendants were entitled to the same immunity as the Commission. The plaintiff responded by arguing that the Commission and its employees enjoyed no immunity from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, citing Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 63 L.Ed.2d 673 (1980), and Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Serv. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). The plaintiff further argued that any state law immunity had been waived by Code (1957, 1979 Repl.Vol, 1985 Cum.Supp.), Art. 49B, § 7(b)(1). 2 The circuit court thereafter overruled the motion raising preliminary objection.

The case was tried on June 1 and June 2, 1983....

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