Hearings began Monday on claims by BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport's former acting fire chief that he was unfairly terminated earlier this year after raising concerns about racial bias within the department.
Gregory Lawrence, who is black, said he believes the Maryland Aviation Administration terminated him in March without due process after he raised concerns about an all-white recruit class. He said he feels the decision also was in retaliation for a previous discrimination case he brought against the department more than a decade ago.
"I want to go back to work," Lawrence said Monday morning, prior to the start of several days of hearings scheduled in the case at the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings in Hunt Valley. "Let's do the right thing."
William Lindsey, an assistant attorney general serving as counsel for the aviation administration in the case, said during testimony that Lawrence was terminated for "misconduct," but declined to comment further when approached during a break.
Lawrence said he has been told he was fired for inappropriate use of his state-owned vehicle while off duty, but disputed that. He said he hopes the hearings shed light on the racial bias he sees in the department.
Lawrence was the first African American to lead the fire department. He first joined the agency as a deputy fire chief in 2007 as the result of a separate lawsuit he brought against the department, claiming discriminatory hiring practices. The MAA maintained there had been no discrimination in its handling of Lawrence's application to join the agency, but agreed to pay him a $100,000 settlement and offered him a job.
Lawrence was named acting fire chief in November, when his predecessor Chief Woodrow Cullum retired. He was subsequently terminated in March. The MAA announced its hiring of Victor N. Ferreira Jr., the department's first Hispanic chief, the same week. The shake up fueled standing complaints about a lack of diversity in the BWI fire department.
Civil rights leaders in the state and national representatives for black firefighters' associations have rallied behind Lawrence since his termination.
Carl Snowden, the legal redress chair of the Anne Arundel County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Monday that Marshall, the civil rights pioneer for whom the airport is named, would "turn over in his grave" if he knew of the "systemic" racial disparity in the department.
Snowden said Lawrence should be offered his job back and issued a public apology from the MAA.
Officials with the aviation administration have said the agency is committed to fair and equal hiring practices and values diversity. Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the agency, said Monday he could not comment on a personnel issue.
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