A black convenience store clerk is entitled to $14,200 in back pay because he was a victim of racial prejudice when he was fired from a Wawa franchise in Savage in 1984, the Howard County Human Rights Commission has found.
In an opinion released this week, a three-member panel of the commission said three Wawa managers discriminated against Pious Oduyoye when they fired him for offenses for which white employes previously had been excused.
Wawa Inc., based in Pennsylvania, has been ordered to pay Oduyoye back wages, plus interest, but has 30 days to appeal the ruling in Howard County Circuit Court. John C. Wright Jr., an attorney for the company, said, "I don't want to comment on the details of the case, but I think it's fair to say we didn't get a fair hearing from that commission." He said he was unsure whether the company will appeal.
Oduyoye's attorney, Jo M. Glasco, said her client was pleased by the commission's finding, but said he was upset because he had not been granted attorney's fees, which exceed the amount of his back pay.
The panel's conclusion was based on almost 40 hours of testimony gathered during six hearings between October 1986 and last spring, the longest case in the commission's 18-year history. Included in the testimony was a statement by Rose Creighton, a white supervisor of Oduyoye's. She said a company district manager, Gary Kaufman, had told her she was "hiring too many blacks." Kaufman said he did not make such a statement, but the panel said it did not believe him.
Oduyoye, 46, a Nigerian native who has lived in this country 19 years, lost his job as an assistant manager at Wawa in October 1984, almost one year after he began working at the Savage store. Shortly before that, the store's manager received three complaints from customers who alleged that Oduyoye had refused to serve them, according to testimony. Oduyoye said the customers were wrong, but was fired after another manager spoke to the customers and consulted Kaufman.
Using other employe files, the panel found that at least two white assistant managers had been cited for similar infractions but were allowed to keep their jobs after receiving warnings.
The panel found that Oduyoye's superiors had failed to notify him of the complaints immediately after they were made, something that had been done with complaints against other employes. And company supervisors, who usually investigated complaints of rudeness by employes by having other employes pose as customers, did not do that in Oduyoye's case, the panel said.