The Enoch Pratt Free Library’s $100,000 settlement of an employee’s disability discrimination lawsuit was approved by the Baltimore Board of Estimates Wednesday, but the agreement between the city library system and the woman will have to be modified to remove an errant confidentiality provision.
Asked about the deal, plaintiff Joan Bourne’s attorney initially said he was gagged by the settlement agreement. But after learning that the city’s top lawyer spoke about the case, Bruce Luchansky negotiated a change in the agreement and talked about his client’s years-long effort to secure a reserved parking place behind the main library branch downtown.
“It was just a disaster,” Luchansky said. “Everyone at the library, they were clueless. They were clueless to the fact that she was a woman with a disability and required an accommodation.”
City Solicitor George A. Nilson said the settlement was “fair and adequate,” noting the plaintiff’s initial demand was $250,000 plus attorney’s fees before she agreed to the all-inclusive $100,000 figure.
Nilson also said the library, which denies liability as part of the agreement, had offered to pay the sum out of its own budget, as opposed to the money coming from the municipal finance department’s suits and judgments fund, which is customary.
Asked about Bourne’s allegations Wednesday, Roswell Encina, a library spokesman, said, “Because it’s a personnel and legal issue, we can’t discuss it.”
Luchansky told the story of “a real stiff upper lip kind of person” who endured years of delay and “second-class citizen” status before finally being allowed to park in the handicapped parking place behind the main branch of the library.
Bourne, whose arthritis has necessitated several surgeries and causes her to walk with a cane and a limp, was hired as a documents unit supervisor at the Pratt’s Cathedral Street headquarters in March 2005. Around the same time, her request for a reserved parking spot near the building was rejected, even though she has a permanent disability placard issued by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
“She was told that no such accommodation existed, even though there were two clearly marked disabled parking spots in the rear of the library,” Luchansky said. Those spaces were used by delivery trucks for loading and unloading purposes, he said.
She ended up parking just more than a block away from the library, a distance that was too much for Bourne, who has two artificial hips and has developed scoliosis in her back and arthritis in her wrist from using her cane, said Luchansky.
In 2007, Bourne noticed other employees were using the back door to enter and exit the building and asked the library’s head of security if she could, too. That door was closer to her parking spot than the front door was, according to Luchansky.
“The head of security just never followed up on it,” Luchansky said.
Bourne underwent a hip dislocation surgery in October 2008, but two days afterward, a couple of the employees she supervised could not come to work, necessitating Bourne’s presence.
Bourne said, “Enough of this, I’m parking here. I’ve just had surgery. I’m parking here,” according to Luchansky.
After more negotiations, Bourne was allowed to park behind the building but in an area that was frequently blocked in by another car or delivery vehicle, Luchansky said. And it wasn’t until later that she received a swipe card that allowed her to enter the back door without relying on someone in the shipping department to come let her in.
Bourne filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and after a June 2009 mediation she was allowed to park in the actual handicapped parking place.
Bourne sued the library under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act in December 2009. The lawyers came to terms on Dec. 23, Luchansky said.
As part of the Bourne settlement, the library has agreed that it will comply with the city’s ADA policy, a copy of which will be posted in a central area of the library. Supervisors and managers will also receive relevant training, Luchansky said.
Bourne, who was 60 when the federal lawsuit was filed, has opted for early retirement on March 1, Luchansky said. But since the library doesn’t have enough handicapped parking for all the employees who need them, Luchansky said, Bourne will park for the next few weeks in the spot normally reserved for Gordon Krabbe, the library’s administrative services director, who has volunteered to park elsewhere.
After Nilson commented on the settlement, Luchansky called Justin Conroy, the assistant solicitor who handled the case. According to Luchansky, Conroy told him that he had made a mistake and that the confidentiality clause was not consistent with the administration’s commitment to transparency and should have been a non-disparagement clause.
Luchansky has proposed language for that new clause but has yet to hear back from the city’s lawyers. Conroy did not return a call Wednesday evening.
“That’s between the lawyer for Mrs. Bourne and the lawyer who handled the case,” Nilson said.
Nilson said “on the government end of things, the case is publicly approved,” making absolute silence about a settlement impossible. Nilson said he did not anticipate the settlement would need to go before the Board of Estimates again.
The five-member city spending panel, which includes Nilson and the mayor, must grant final approval to all such municipal expenditures.
A similar issue arose recently in the mistaken-arrest case of Yakov Shapiro, a Soviet-born violin teacher who was arrested on a warrant for child molestation charges meant for a Baltimore bar mitzvah teacher, Yisroel Shapiro. The Board of Estimates approved a $200,000 settlement in that case, but the details of the underlying incident were kept largely secret until The Daily Record applied legal pressure.