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Mentally disabled to settle sex-abuse suit

The state has reached a settlement with two mentally disabled women who claimed they were subjected to rape and sexual abuse for years by their supervisors at a state-run workshop.

The settlement of $465,000 is subject to approval by the Maryland Board of Public Works, which is scheduled to vote on it on Feb. 8.

The settlement also calls for the creation of a task force to review existing regulations, policies and training programs on sexual harassment and sexual contact within state-run and state-licensed programs and facilities.

Rosetta Demby of East New Market and Shirley B. Williams of Cambridge filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on July 17, 2006, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act and the Civil Rights Act, as well as common law tort claims.

The two women, and a third plaintiff, Leila Johnson, claimed they were subjected to sexual abuse and rape by their supervisors at the Maryland Sheltered Workshop from 1999 to 2003. Johnson settled separately in 2010.

Also named as defendants were the Eastern Shore Hospital Center in Cambridge and approximately a dozen of its individual employees.

“Demby was systematically and routinely raped and sodomized more than 24 times each year between August 1999 and October 2003,” the original complaint alleges, adding that criminal investigations did not begin until 2003. “But by that time, Defendant [Leroy Darnell] Banks and co-conspirators had feasted on the mentally disabled female population of about 50 workers at the workshop for many years before Demby.”

The workshop engages mentally disabled persons in work such as dismantling and stacking cardboard boxes for a container company, or other manufacture-related tasks.

The women originally sought compensatory and punitive damages on 13 counts in amounts ranging from $300,000 to $500,000, per person.

Criminal investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Cambridge Police Department and the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Department resulted in no criminal charges being brought against the defendants in the lawsuit, except for one.

Banks pleaded guilty in October 2005 to one count of tampering with a witness in the investigation. He was sentenced to five months’ home confinement and two years’ probation.

Melvin J. Jews, the Cambridge attorney representing Demby and Williams, did not return calls for comment. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the agency would not comment on personnel issues or the pending settlement.

Johnson’s attorney, John L. Walter of Centreville, said he was not allowed to discuss the terms of her settlement. However, records from the Board of Public Works, which must approve all state settlements, show the board voted to approve a $90,000 settlement with Johnson in September 2010.

A separate lawsuit filed by a 74-year-old man who worked at the shop also was settled, according to court records. John Alston, who lost the use of most of the left side of his body after a stroke, claimed he was subjected to physical and sexual abuse by supervisors at the shop. The details of the settlement were not included in the motion to have the case dismissed.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene still operates the hospital, but stopped operating the workshop shortly after the allegations arose. The workshop is currently run by a subsidiary of Delmarva Community Services Inc., a Cambridge-based nonprofit agency.