Firefighting, Leadership

Judge Orders BWI Airport Fire Department to Reinstate African-American Deputy Chief

Baltimore, November 7, 2014—According to a Maryland state judge, “a racially inhospitable environment” at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport’s fire department led to the unlawful termination of an African-American deputy fire chief earlier this year. Administrative Law Judge Nancy E. Paige concluded that the firing should be reversed.

The fire chief, Gregory Lawrence, was fired in March. He was the first African-American hired as deputy fire chief at the airport, and the first to serve as acting chief.

Judge Paige’s decision stated that it is “more likely than not that the only reason for termination of the Employee was his race. I conclude that the Employee would not have been terminated if he were not African-American.”

Civil rights advocates hailed the ruling, with some noting that the department has a history of discrimination complaints that have not been adequately addressed.

Only six black firefighters in the department received promotions between 1972 and December 2013, Paige found. Between 1990 and December 2013, none was promoted to the level of captain or higher — one declined an offer — although nearly 50 had applied.

Paige ordered the agency to reinstate Lawrence with full pay and benefits dating back to March 5, the day he was fired. He earned an annual salary of $93,516.

Lawrence was fired shortly after he joined others in criticizing the selection of an all-white recruit class at BWI. He appealed his termination to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

In five days of hearings, Paige wrote, she found evidence of disparate treatment of Lawrence by other members of management and by some of his subordinates.

She found the firing violated both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act.

Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration, said officials were reviewing Paige’s “lengthy decision” to “determine options and further actions, including a possible appeal.”

“The airport continues to reject these assertions. The airport is confounded with the [judge’s] conclusion,” Dean said. “BWI Marshall Airport remains absolutely committed to fair and equal employment opportunities. We are devoted to a fully inclusive workforce throughout the organization.”

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