The Justice Department has dropped a reverse discrimination lawsuit against the State of Maryland, conceding that the action was filed too late.

Justice Department lawyers acknowledged Thursday that the original complaint, brought by 10 white males who were rejected after applying for jobs with the Maryland Lottery in 1983, had been filed after a 300-day deadline had passed.

"The rules require that the complaint be filed within 300 days of when the alleged unlawful practice took place," said Dennis M. Sweeney, a Maryland deputy attorney general. "We contend it was filed seven months after the deadline."

The suit the Justice Department filed in September charged that the applicants were rejected solely because of a discriminatory "employment plan" adopted at the direction of then-Governor Harry Hughes.

The state created four new posts, including a deputy director and an area manager, and filled them with two black men, a black woman and a white woman.

Attorneys for Maryland maintained that the 1983 action had been an appropriate one, and that the state was acting after the Maryland Human Relations Commission ruled that that there weren't enough blacks and women in the upper levels of the lottery agency.

The Justice Department lawsuit, filed in federal court in Baltimore, alleged that the state violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by reserving the four positions for women and minorities.

The suit was one of several such reverse discrimination suits filed this year against state and local governments by the Justice Department.

Title VII actions under the 1964 law traditionally have been used to combat discrimination against women and minorities.

Throughout the Reagan administration, the Justice Department used the law to bring suit on behalf of white males, a practice that continued in the Bush administration under Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.