The Labor Department accused the University of Maryland yesterday of discriminating against black and Asian job applicants in an action that could cost the university more than $15 million in federal contracts.

The complaint was filed after extended negotiations to settle the dispute broke down when the university refused to pay more than $1 million in back pay and to offer jobs to anyone found to have been discriminated against. The university had agreed to resolve any problems involving future hirings.

Terry Roach, an attorney for the university, called the case "outrageous. It is hard to contain my anger." He said that in the end "common sense will prevail."

If the employment discrimination accusations are upheld by a federal administrative law judge, the university could lose all current and future federal contracts. The university has $15.5 million in federal contracts, primarily research grants, according to the Labor Department.

The discrimination accusations are the latest in a series of unwelcome events for the flagship campus of Maryland's university system. The 10th largest campus in the nation with 36,000 students, College Park was plunged into a national scandal in 1986 after the cocaine-induced death of Terrapins basketball star Len Bias.

This spring, the school was penalized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for violations in its men's basketball program. And just yesterday, Athletic Director Lew Perkins, hired in 1987 to try to cleanse the sports program, resigned in disfavor to accept a similar job at the University of Connecticut.

In recent years the school has been improving its academic standards and shifting emphasis to research and graduate training in an attempt to move into the ranks of top public universities.

The complaint represents the first government challenge to hiring practices at College Park. In fact, the campus, an all-white school a generation ago, has drawn praise lately for the desegregation of its student body. The school is one of few in Maryland that have met enrollment goals contained in a desegregation agreement between the state and the U.S. Department of Education.

The allegations against the university were brought by the department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance, which lodges 30 to 40 complaints a year against contractors. Only a few of the complaints are filed against universities.

In the College Park case, the complaint involves the campus's hiring practices for clerical and secretarial workers. The federal agency said a pattern of discrimination was uncovered during a routine investigation that began in March 1987. It said the investigation showed that the number of blacks and Asians hired for clerical work was smaller than it ought to have been given the number of minority applicants. The university employs about 1,300 clerical and secretarial workers at College Park.

In its complaint, the federal agency said 193 blacks and 70 Asians sought jobs at the campus and were turned down.

Roach acknowledged that the race of the clerks and secretaries hired by the university does not match the applicant pool, but he said those disparities are not the result of discrimination. And, he said, federal investigators who examined the hiring practices could not find instances in which individual applicants had been treated unfairly.

"We think we have been as cooperative as we can," he said. "We think they are working with a flawed {statistical} design, but, notwithstanding that, we have offered to compromise with them. We think they are being uncompromising in a situation where they are wrong.

"It they cannot demonstrate a single individual that was injured, that seems to me to demonstrate their statistical analysis is flawed," he said.

The method of statistical analysis used by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance was outlawed by the Supreme Court last year as a basis for bringing discrimination charges against private employers. The agency is not covered by the court decision, however, because its enforcement actions are taken under federal procurement law and a special presidential executive order.

The agency is responsible for enforcing equal employment laws for all federal contractors with 50 or more employees and contracts of $50,000 or more.

The case now goes before a Labor Department administrative law judge who will hold hearings and then make a recommendation to Labor Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who has the power to strip the university of all current and future federal contracts. Disciplinary actions by the secretary can be appealed in the federal courts.

Office Director Cari Dominquez said her office had been trying to settle the case for more than three years. She said that the university was making settlement offers until the time the complaint was filed.

The hiring practices cited in the complaint occurred during the 5 1/2-year tenure of John S. Slaughter, the campus's first black president. He resigned in 1988 to accept a job as president of Occidental College, a small, private liberal arts school in Los Angeles.

Yesterday, Roz Hiebert, a College Park spokeswoman, said one of Slaughter's highest priorities for the campus "was to create a multiracial, multi-generational, multiethnic community. He made every effort to make his goal known, and people were sincerely trying to fulfill it."

John Anderson, chief of the educational affairs division of the Maryland Attorney General's Office, rejected the discrimination allegations against the university, saying there were "other more serious discriminatory matters the {labor} department might better be spending its time on."