More than 1,600 people, including some with far-fetched claims, have filed discrimination complaints against Fairfax County in U.S. District Court in an attempt to benefit from the Justice Department's successful job discrimination suit against the county.
Applications from people wishing to join the multimillion-dollar, class-action lawsuit have been coming in at a steady pace since March, when U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. ruled that Fairfax had discriminated against blacks and women in hiring and promotion in six out of eight job categories. The deadline for filing was midnight yesterday.
Following government efforts to publicize the decision, the court began receiving claims against Fairfax -- but also claims against private fast food chains and law firms and Montgomery, Prince George's and Arlington counties.
Cornelius J. O'Kane, Fairfax personnel director, and Robert Howell, a county attorney working on the discrimination case, said about 25 of the claims are not legitimate, because they are against entities that have no connection with Fairfax.
"In any kind of endeavor of this sort you are going to have crank or esoteric claims," said O'Kane. "But those type of claims are a small proportion of the total amount we've received."
Bryan's March ruling made thousands of blacks and women who applied for but did not get jobs in the county government eligible for back pay if the county could not prove before a special hearing officer that the female and minority applicants were not qualified or others were equally or better qualified.
The county mailed more than 10,200 certified letters to blacks and women who had applied for jobs since 1975, and ran weekly ads announcing the discrimination suit in 28 metropolitan newspapers and on three local radio stations.
The Justice Department based its suit on 1977 statistics that showed in part that only 5.6 percent of 7,000 workers employed by the county at the time were black, compared to at least 24 percent of the work force in the metropolitan area.
Thomas K. Harvard, who was sent a claim form from the county this summer, said he will not be among those filing complaints.
"It's just a lot of bother to go through that process," said Harvard, who applied for a county job two years ago and now is director of the Palmer Park Drug Counseling Center in Landover. "I can hardly remember what the job title was. For all that bother, the money's just not worth it.