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“There’s a strong sense of nepotism, and it is the culture of Metro,” the civil rights employee said. “It was more of a buddy system than it was merit-based.”

Metro did not respond to requests for information about workforce demographics. Asked about a court case in which a woman alleged she was sexually harassed by a man about whom Metro had received complaints from multiple women but did nothing, and that many workers are not given sexual-harassment training, spokesman Dan Stessel would not deny the charges but pointed to the agency’s legal response, which also did not deny the charges but noted the statute of limitations had expired.

First-line managers

Of a dozen senior supervisors overseeing the rail division in 2007, 10 were black and two were white, and five black supervisors, all with less than a year of tenure in the position, were paid more than both whites, who had more seniority — one with 20 years — personnel records obtained by The Times show.

The group making more money includes senior supervisors such as Orlando Terrell King, who has been charged with reckless endangerment and fraudulently attempting to obtain a driver’s license, according to Maryland state records. Mr. King, who is paid $62,536, was promoted by Metro to oversee those who drive trains carrying thousands of passengers daily.

Also rising rapidly to senior supervisor was Robbie O. McGee, who spent eight years in federal prison for felony distribution of PCP while on probation for another crime. He received five pay increases at Metro in two years.

“There’s a problem with the first-line supervisors and possibly above actually enforcing basic discipline. When a supervisor walks into a kiosk on Sunday when the game’s on and asks where’s the TV and brings a plate of food in, there’s a disconnect,” a former union representative said.

The personnel record of the white male senior supervisor, Robert Fish, meanwhile, indicates strict standards and scrutiny, including suspensions and severe reprimands for minor infractions such as possession of a covered cup of coffee.

Anti-elitism

Ms. Townsend had a college degree and a decade of experience as a schoolteacher when she was passed over for a training job in favor of a man who had taken some community college courses and, it turned out, could barely write a sentence.

She sued Metro and won, but retired from the rail department in 2005 after another personnel decision that seemed to have nothing to do with merit. By that time, she had earned a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. But when a position as head of training arose, it went to someone whose most relevant experience was as secretary at a community college, she said.

It is not just that mediocrity is overlooked. Dozens of employees whom Metro rules forbid from speaking to the media said: Diligence is discouraged, because anywhere one looked was something that needed to be fixed — and change, especially when it involved work, was anathema to senior Metro line workers.

For example, Ms. Townsend said, by 2004, many trains were operating without radios in defiance of federal rules. Other drivers confirmed that was common knowledge. So she authored a study and included a recommendation that Metro start substituting cellphones.

“I was read the riot act: ‘You had no right to compile these statistics,’ even though it was my job. They didn’t want people showing problems,” she said.

Her capacity as trainer gave her a vantage to long-term impact of the workplace culture.

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