Ex-county employee alleges discrimination, retaliation
by Bryan P. Sears
The $1 million federal lawsuit against the county, Homan and Suzanne Berger, an assistant county attorney, was filed June 28 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
It alleges that Homan and Berger conspired against Miriam Grice after she witnessed an encounter between the pair. Grice was first demoted, then suspended several times, then ultimately fired June 28.
"This is about what happened to Miriam Grice after April 2005," said Kathleen Cahill, a Towson employment law attorney who is representing Grice.
"Her life changed dramatically in 2005. She lost her life and career. This is about getting those back for her in a fair fight, which you can't get right now in Baltimore County if you're an employee who has been targeted."
Ellen Kobler, a county spokeswoman, said, "These are old charges by a disgruntled ex-employee. Nothing more, nothing less. We do find the timing of this lawsuit rather curious."
Asked if she was referring to Homan's expected July 2 confirmation as county administrative officer, Kobler replied, "Exactly."
She said County Executive Jim Smith, Homan and Berger would not comment.
She earlier asked a reporter inquiring about the lawsuit to submit a list of questions via e-mail and said later the questions had been forwarded to the county law office, with no idea when answers would be forthcoming.
In the 13-page lawsuit, Grice, a workers compensation claims manager, said Homan, then director of the Office of Budget and Finance, threatened to abolish her job in 1999 after she reported an alleged affair between her supervisor and a secretary in the office. Homan ultimately moved the secretary to another office and had Grice report directly to him.
In 2004, the suit said, she was ordered to begin reporting back to the former supervisor, who is not named in the lawsuit because he is dead. Grice said in the lawsuit that her relationship with her supervisor soured, and she was cut out of important meetings and decisions.
In April 2005, Grice "accidentally interrupted (Homan and Berger) in an awkward scene after work hours in defendant Berger's office one evening. This came at a time when the workplace was rife with reports of an illicit relationship between defendants Homan and Berger and complaints about the adverse impact on government operations."
Homan chairs the Board of Trustees of the Retirement Board. Berger is assigned as legal counsel to the retirement system.
The alleged relationship raises ethical questions about whether Berger can provide independent legal advice to county boards headed by her alleged paramour.
Cahill said she "wrestled with the language in the lawsuit," but declined to characterize what her client saw.
"It's not my intent to make this thing more salacious," Cahill said. "I know there's a lot of interest in the county about the details."
Both Homan and Berger are married to other people. Neither appears to be legally separated or divorced, according to state court records.
In May, Berger filed paperwork with the council disclosing that she and her husband, Peter Berger, were seeking to develop a 4.8-acre parcel on Delight Road in Reisterstown.
Grice claims that in August 2005 she was told that she would have to reapply for her position. According to the lawsuit, "the selection panel that gave away (Grice's) position" consisted of Grice's former supervisor, and Berger and Homan, who established the selection panel.
Grice later learned that the Human Resources Department had rated her first among the applicants.
But in October 2005, Grice learned that the county had hired a man who was not a county employee to fill her old job. She was left in limbo until the following February, when she learned she had been demoted to assistant claims manager, and her salary was cut by $5,000, according to the lawsuit.
Grice filed a complaint with Jim Smith in March 2006. Cahill said no action was taken, and Homan later was promoted to acting county administrative officer. Currently, Homan holds that position and the budget and finance director position and is thought of in county circles as the most powerful man in county government.
The council is scheduled to vote July 2 on a 23 percent salary increase for Homan, which would raise his annual pay to about $190,000.
In August 2006, Grice filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing discrimination.
In January, she was subsequently suspended for two weeks with pay.
In June, Grice was called to a meeting with Homan. Cahill said that when her client realized the purpose of the meeting was to suspend Grice, her client asked to reschedule the meeting to have her attorney present because of the open EEOC complaint. That complaint was later amended to include a claim of retaliation.
Cahill said Grice was ordered to sit down. When she refused, she was sent home. Two days later Grice was told via e-mail that she had been terminated.
E-mail political editor Bryan P. Sears at political editor Bryan P. Sears@patuxent.com