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Week in review: 10/5/12

Utility upgrades may mean surcharge

Marylanders could be asked to fork over extra money to utility companies each month to accelerate improvements to the electrical distribution system, according to a report released this week. The report, which detailed 11 recommendations to improve the electric grid’s resiliency and reliability, was released by a task force created by Gov. Martin O’Malley in June after severe storms resulted in extended power outages across the region. It outlined a plan to encourage companies to invest in better infrastructure and comply with stricter regulations sooner than what Maryland’s Public Service Commission requires. Customers would have to pay a monthly surcharge to pay for those improvements.

Convicted murderer awarded new trial

Maryland’s top court has granted a convicted murderer a new trial because his defense attorney was not told of a communication between a judge’s aide and a juror prior to deliberations. The aide had relayed a message from the juror’s family, telling him his grandmother died. The juror assured the aide that he could continue. Later that day, however, the juror asked to be dismissed and was told to keep deliberating. The Court of Appeals found that Thomas B. Harris was denied his right to due process in the 2008 trial.

Decision on MARC deal delayed by board

The Board of Public Works delayed a decision that would have awarded a Pennsylvania rail company the right to operate MARC’s Camden and Brunswick lines. Horsham, Pa.-based Bombardier Transportation Services USA Corp. was selected last month by the Maryland Transit Administration to run the commuter rail lines over the length of a $204.7 million, five-year, eight-month contract that included a five-year, $205 million option. The contract was modified this week to increase the required MBE participation rate to 7.97 percent from 7 percent, a change that an MTA spokesman said caused the voting delay.

Lockheed won’t issue layoff notices tied to cuts

Lockheed Martin Corp., of Bethesda, dropped plans to issue layoff notices in anticipation of across-the-board defense spending cuts set to begin Jan. 2. Lockheed said it decided notices under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act aren’t needed “after careful review” of guidance issued last week by the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department. Defense contractors had said they might have to warn thousands of workers their jobs might disappear unless President Barack Obama and Congress act before January to avert the spending cuts. Notices would have gone out just before the Nov. 6 elections.

Towson U. may cut soccer, baseball teams

Towson University’s director of athletics, Michael Waddell, has recommended reinstatement of the men’s tennis program, discontinuance of the men’s soccer and baseball programs, and roster expansions for certain women’s teams, which were not identified. The recommendations are contained in a report sent to university President Maravene Loeschke. According to a message from Loeschke, the proposals’ aim is to establish the athletics program’s long-term financial stability; increase competitiveness; and comply with federal law regarding female-to-male athlete proportionality. Loeschke promised a full discussion of the recommendations within and outside the TU community, and said she will announce her final decision by mid-November.

Former employees sue Comcast for OT pay

Two former Maryland Comcast Corp. employees are suing the cable provider, claiming it owes them overtime wages. In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Ishmael Andrews and Kyle Camp say they worked at Comcast’s White Marsh call center and that the company required employees to work off-the-clock for 10 to 15 minutes or more each day. The employees said they had to work extra time before and after their shifts and during breaks outside their designated 40 hours per week. The complaint said they were not paid the required overtime pay of one and a half times their hourly rate required by the Fair Labor Standards Act and Maryland Wage and Hour Law.

Discovery files suit over exec’s departure

Discovery Communications Inc. has filed a federal lawsuit against Computer Sciences Corp., alleging it purloined Executive Vice President/Chief Accounting Officer Thomas R. Colan while he was still under contract. Silver Spring-based Discovery recently filed suit in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, seeking actual and punitive damages for tortious interference with contract, as well as pre- and post-judgment interest and legal fees. The amount is unspecified, except that it exceeds the $75,000 minimum for federal court jurisdiction.