A Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission discriminated against a white College Park woman when it refused to give her a job on the basis that she was not black. Judge Perry G. Bowen Jr. ordered the commission to give Elsie Crawford, 50, the job she applied for, and pay her $500 in compensatory damages.
Crawford said afterward that she was pleased with the outcome, but that the process had been "hard to go through."
A commission panel said after a hearing last October that Crawford was "clearly more qualified" than a competing black woman for the job of administrative secretary in the commission's Prince George's County parks and recreation office last fall.
But the interview panel's recommendation of Crawford was changed by commission officials, who said they were under orders from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to hire and promote enough minorities and women to meet EEOC goals by 1984. Thus, the commission decided to give the job to the black woman, whom they had rated lower overall according to six different categories.
Thomas H. Countee Jr., executive director of the commission, said Bowen's decision yesterday "leaves the impact of the affirmative action plan . . . in some doubt." He said commissioners will discuss whether or not to appeal the decision at their June 8 meeting. "I'd hope we will appeal it," he added.
Assistant general counsel for the commission, D. S. Sastri, said in court that those making the hiring decision were caught in a "Catch 22" situation and "confronted by constraints". He said the commission "does not dispute the fact that Mrs. Crawford is very well qualfied . . . the most qualified candidate for this position--way beyond the needs of the job."
Sastri told Bowen that Crawford, who had worked two years as a secretary in a different commission office when she applied to be transferred to the new position, "had the distinction of being chosen the person most qualified for the job, but that itself was not enough to get her the job."
He said the recommendations of the interview panel were not followed because the executive director had ordered that the next person hired in that job category be black. A white woman had been hired the previous time a position had been open in the same category. Crawford's attorney, Karl G. Feissner, noted in court that that person, who had been granted an exception, was the daughter of the director of parks and recreation in Prince George's.
Sastri argued it was reasonable for the commission to refuse to give Crawford the job on the basis of skin color because "race consciousness is required under the affirmative action plan."
Crawford was never warned that whites would not be considered for the job, Feissner said, and notice of this was not given in published advertisements. He called the selection process "an absolute, total and complete sham."
Bowen said a black should only have been chosen over a white candidate if both were equally qualified. "Other than that," Bowen said, "the one with the most merit should be hired." In this case, however, "it is clear that the only reason Mrs. Crawford wasn't transferred is because she was white, and absolutely no other reason.
He said he was "sympathetic" to the commission's problems with meeting EEOC requirements, but in this case, "I don't think it will pass constitutional muster."
Crawford said afterwards that she had asked to be transferred to the vacant position, which carried the same pay, because she did not like the supervisory responsibilities of her former job.