A small wave of employment discrimination lawsuits has hit state agencies and local governments in the state since early 1984, and behind them is Annapolis resident Carl Snowden, whose new consulting firm has helped black employes from here to Ocean City organize such actions.
Carl Snowden and Associates (the seven associates do part-time research) has helped black police officers and firefighters sue the city of Annapolis over hiring and promotion practices and black officers in the Maryland Natural Resources Police force sue the state. Other clients include black assessors with the Department of Assessments and Taxation and black employes of the Natural Resources Department.
Also, black police officers in Ocean City and one black officer in Salisbury brought suit against their city governments with Snowden's assistance. Most recently, he helped employes of the aviation section of the State Department of Transportation in a legal action against the state.
The suits that Snowden's clients have recently brought to increase hiring and promotion of minorities "are significant in terms of numbers; they are significant in the terms of the jobs that are involved," said David Glenn, director of the Maryland Commission on Human Rights.
The number of discrimination suits pending against the state could not be determined, but Glenn said there are currently 200 complaints against the state filed with his agency, some of them from Snowden clients.
Snowden, who charges $60 an hour and works from a small, plaque-lined office on Annapolis' Main Street, said his largest role is to teach disgruntled groups how to organize, form associations and raise money. He also describes actions they might take.
"People tend to look for a savior to come in and solve their problems," he said. "I'm not a savior. I basically teach people how to do for themselves." Snowden, 31, is an Anne Arundel County native who has organized demonstrations since 1970, when he set up a class boycott at his Annapolis high school.
Since then he has worked at an Anne Arundel County antipoverty agency, organized a long rent strike against the management of an apartment complex, taught a crime prevention course at Southwest Texas University and hosted a radio show in Annapolis. He recently received a masters degree in sociology from Lincoln University.
Snowden, who says he is contemplating running for mayor of Annapolis or a seat on the City Council, is not a lawyer but has two lawyers who work closely with him. Snowden's recent activities have been praised by some black leaders and criticized by some white leaders who accuse him of confrontational tactics.
Among his clients, only black officers in Annapolis have reached an out-of-court settlement with the city. Under terms of the settlement, the government of the 35 percent black city is working on affirmative action goals for hiring and promoting black officers, who account for 10 percent of the 101-member force.
"There's no business like it anywhere in the country," Snowden said of his services in the areas of housing, employment and voting rights discrimination. " . . .It assists people in becoming empowered."
Barry Goldstein of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Washington said he had not heard of an operation exactly like Snowden's.
"There are a lot of consulting firms, but they are mostly geared towards management -- how to have an affirmative action program, how to avoid problems," he said. Victims of racial discrimination more typically turn to organizations like the NAACP, he said.
"Thank God for him," Samuel Gilmer, the only black member of the Annapolis City Council and a former county NAACP president, said of Snowden. "He's doing the job that the civil rights organizations should be doing."
While Snowden may be confrontational, Gilmer said, there is nothing wrong with that. "You have to be one way or the other," he said.
Snowden's receptions around the state are mixed. When he met with state delegates from the Eastern Shore in March to tell them he planned to "audit" their territory in search of racial discrimination, "He was not terribly warmly received," said Del. William Horne (D-Easton), chairman of the Eastern Shore delegation to the House of Delegates.
"The basic feeling of the delegation, I think, was that if there are problems, then the proper level of government should work on it," Horne said. Snowden told them he had not contacted county officials or attorneys about the discrimination problems he sees, Horne said. "Mr. Snowden could accomplish more that way, rather than indiscriminately filing suits," Horne maintained.
Snowden, who says he advocates legal action as "a last resort," says he believes his business comes along at an important time, when civil rights organizations are basically dormant and when black and white members of the "me generation" are interested largely in self-gratification. "Blacks who have positions don't want to risk them," Snowden contended. "Often the have-nots are divided," he added. "You have to organize them."
Annapolis council member Gilmer contends that black Americans tend to be too complacent about civil rights progress.
"Carl Snowden is giving them a rude awakening as to what they should be doing," he said