When Robert E. Lee changed his name to Roberto Eduardo Leon, he did not become an instant Hispanic, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Leon, a Montgomery County Environmental Protection Department engineer, achieved minority status under the county's affirmative action plan by adopting the Spanish surname. As a minority member, he is now eligible for preferential job treatment.

But the EEOC, in a letter to Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, said it would be "an abuse of federal law and regulations to accept mere conversion... to a Spanish surname" as a basis for granting minority status.

"I agree with them," said Peter Chen, Montgomery County's director of employee relations.

Chen said yesterday that the real reason Leon was granted the change from 01 (white) to 03 (Hispanic) was that "he had a Spanish grandfather." But this, according to EEOC spokesperson Daisy Voight, "is also not the way to do it."

Chen said yesterday, "I never would have granted him the Hispanic designation based on the name change alone. The real reason was because he claimed Hispanic ancestry."

Did the county check into Leon's background? "No," Chen said, "we're not equipped to do that. But we made him sign a written statement that he had a Spanish grandparent."

Gilchrist said yesterday he is reviewing the county's affirmative action program and has asked Chen for a full report on the Roberto Eduardo Leon situation, which he called "a very serious problem."

Leon -- described by one colleague as a man "with a knack for figuring out loopholes" -- could be promoted over equally qualified white males if he decided to seek another position within the county government.

"If that happened and somebody filed a formal complaint, we'd have to investigate it," said EEOC's Voigt. "Somebody could sue the county over it," she added.

Gilchrist said yesterday he had already heard several complaints from outraged members of the Spanish community.

"It's a sham," said Carlos E. Anzoategui, executive director of the Governors Commission of Hispanic Affairs. "To me, the man (Leon) is a conniver. He can call himself anything he wants. My beef is with the county which has become a partner in the sham. We'll sue if we have to."

Anzoategui called Leon "a Johnny-come-lately" to the Spanish category.

Leon, a 56-year-old former Navy captain who was born in San Diego, said yesterday he is still Hispanic, according to the county personnel office, and "doesn't understand all the publicity."

The name calling doesn't bother him either. Said Leon, "There's nothing wrong with being an opportunist."