A jury awarded a former Howard County public works employee more than $960,000 in compensatory damages in a lawsuit claiming racial harassment by white coworkers.
In a verdict delivered Wednesday evening in Howard County Circuit Court, the jury found that Darrell Fletcher, 54, was discriminated against after they heard he was called a “boy” and racial slurs using the n-word. They also heard about Fletcher’s claims that his former white coworkers refused to work and train with him, or be trained by him when he later received a promotion.
Fletcher, who is Black, had 11 years of construction and utility experience before he started his job in October 2018 in the county’s Bureau of Utilities, though coworkers claimed he got the job because he must have been related to former supervisor George Gibson, who is also Black, according to Fletcher’s attorneys.
Fletcher also reported that he was assaulted by former white colleagues during an altercation several months later in 2019. About a month later, only one of them was fired and the two others received no disciplinary action, according to Fletcher’s case.
“I’ve always had a connection to construction work from my family, so I was proud to work at the DPW. But the emotional pain of dealing with constant racism wore on me. It’s been an extremely difficult journey to get back on my feet and get to a better place,” Fletcher said in a statement. “My honest hope is that this case creates long-overdue change at the DPW to address these issues — no one should have to endure what I faced in their place of work.”
In an email Thursday, county spokesperson Mark Miller said, “While there is litigation pending, the County will have no comment.”
Fletcher said he endured physical and mental stress on the job due to harassment and his doctor advised him to leave. He was placed on unpaid medical leave and the department fired him in September 2020.
In the meantime, he received a commercial driver’s license and now works as a truck driver traveling at least 3,500 miles every week to support his family.
Fletcher’s attorney David Karman said the county’s Department of Public Works has a history of racial discrimination against Black workers.
“Mr. Fletcher showed incredible fortitude in the face of disgusting mistreatment. While nothing can fully repair the emotional and economic damage that this abuse caused him, today’s verdict delivers an important measure of justice,” Karman said. “We are proud to have helped make things right for him and his family.”