A former Maryland District Court employee claims she was sexually harassed by the former top clerk at the Wabash court house in Baltimore, a pattern of behavior she alleges was protected and covered up by his superiors.
Kim K. Sumner said longtime clerk Lonnie P. Ferguson Jr. gave her a half-dozen pornographic DVDs, used “excessively coarse and vulgar language” around her and spent a “substantial part” of each work day in her office, according to an amended complaint filed Monday in federal court.
Ferguson, who retired last October, said Tuesday that he had not seen Sumner’s lawsuit and declined to comment on her allegations. He was suspended for 30 days without pay in August 2011 based on complaints by Sumner, a punishment she says was insufficient.
In a 93-page amended complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Sumner added that Ferguson promoted or gave preferential treatment to female subordinates with whom he had sexual relationships.
Sumner also named as defendants the Maryland Judiciary, two former administrative judges — Judge Keith E. Mathews, who retired in March 2010, and Judge John R. Hargrove Jr., who succeeded Mathews until returning to associate-judge status last September — and the District Court’s Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn, who has announced he will retire in May.
Sumner alleges that Mathews also gave preferential treatment to female employees in exchange for sex and that Hargrove and Clyburn knew of Ferguson and Mathews’ behavior but did nothing to stop it because of their friendship and because of their race. Sumner is white; Ferguson and the three judges are black.
Terri Bolling, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary, declined to comment on the lawsuit because the litigation is pending.
The attorney general’s office is representing the Judiciary. In court documents, they argued that Sumner’s administrative complaint was promptly dealt with: Ferguson was punished for his actions and no further incidents were reported after Ferguson returned from his suspension.
“The Judiciary took adequate and appropriate steps to curb the boorish harassment,” the lawyers state.
But Sumner’s lawsuit states the punishment was “inconsistent with the ‘progressive discipline’ policy of the Maryland Judiciary” because Ferguson had already been suspended or disciplined twice for sexual harassment.
“But for Defendant Ferguson’s race, his decades-long personal friendships with Defendants Mathews and Clyburn, and the above-described agreement and conspiracy between Defendants Mathews and Ferguson, Defendant Ferguson would have been permanently removed, either by discharge or demotion,” the complaint states.
A motion to dismiss Sumner’s lawsuit was denied in August, according to court records. A trial is scheduled for January.
Sumner worked at the Maryland District Court from February 2008 until she resigned in January. She originally filed a four-page, handwritten complaint in February 2013, according to court records. She has been represented since late September by Gerardine M. Delambo, a Baltimore solo practitioner.
“I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for people who have been mistreated in their employment situation,” Delambo said Tuesday, adding she also used to be a state employee.
Delambo filed a motion two months ago to amend Sumner’s original complaint. Lawyers for the Judiciary received two extensions on the deadline to reply to the motion, according to court records.
On Monday, Judge Joseph R. Goodwin denied the Judiciary’s request for a third extension and allowed Delambo to file the amended complaint, saying he was concerned about “the number of delays in the early stages of this case.”
Goodwin, who sits in the Southern District of West Virginia, was specially assigned to the case in August, taking over for Judge Catherine C. Blake, according to court records.
No explanation accompanied the decision to reassign the case. But in an early September court filing by Sumner, Maryland District Court Judge Devy Patterson Russell said in an affidavit she had been identified as a material witness in Sumner’s case to the alleged “gender-based discrimination, harassment, and/or hostile work environment occurring in District Court for Baltimore City.” Russell is the wife of U.S. District Court Judge George Levi Russell III.
Judge Devy Patterson Russell’s affidavit also said she filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities against Hargrove in June 2012. Sumner included the affidavit in an earlier court filing, but lawyers for the Judiciary were granted a motion to strike it from the court record, according to court records. Russell’s affidavit did not include information as to the nature of her complaint against Hargrove.
Sumner’s lawsuit is Sumner v. Maryland Judiciary, U.S. District Court No. 1:13-cv-00539-JRG.