Lawsuit accuses BGE of culture of racial discrimination

Seven former Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. workers, all of them Black, are suing the utility for allegedly perpetuating a deep-seated culture of racism where African American employees regularly endured racial slurs, discrimination and at least one instructor who tied nooses in front of them.

Filed Friday in Baltimore Circuit Court, the sweeping complaint cites several examples over more than a decade of Black employees facing retaliation for reporting bigoted outbursts to supervisors and highlights the colleague who allegedly tied nooses and discussed lynchings in front of African American trainees. The instructor was later fired after a terminated employee posted photos of the instructor holding a noose on social media.


The plaintiffs are accusing BGE and its parent company, Exelon Corp., of enabling a workplace where supervisors ignored or downplayed racism, overlooked Black employees or candidates for positions they were qualified for, and enforced the companies’ rules disparately depending on an employee’s skin color.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are BGE and its former CEO, as well as Exelon and more than a dozen supervisors for the utility, most of them white. Six plaintiffs were fired for what the complaint describes as discriminatory or retaliatory reasons, including three with at least a decade at the company.


“There are two standards of performance evaluation and discipline in operation at BGE, and it’s been that way,” said Tonya Baña, the Baltimore attorney for the plaintiffs. The suit seeks a minimum of $300,000 for each of the seven plaintiffs for alleged violations of the state’s Fair Employment Practices act. But actual damages could be much higher with the inclusion of at least 50 potential members of a class action.

BGE, one of Baltimore’s oldest institutions and Central Maryland’s largest electric and natural gas utility with 3,200 employees, denied the allegations in a statement Monday, calling some “misleading.”

“We stand firmly behind the decisions that led to the separation of each former employee, which had nothing to do with race or any other unlawful basis,” the company said. Firings were based on conduct or safety violations, such as failing to follow drug and alcohol policies, falsification of time records and using company time for personal or monetary gain, BGE said. As of Wednesday, the company had not responded in court to the complaint, typically the next step in such cases.

The lawsuit also names Calvin G. Butler Jr., Exelon’s senior executive vice president and COO, who oversees Exelon’s six utility companies. Butler became BGE’s first Black CEO in 2014 and served in that role until December 2019.

Butler has publicly championed diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in business. In a speech last May, Butler told members of the Greater Baltimore Committee, which he chairs, that those efforts must be more than a “side project.”

“That is why DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] efforts of the past have failed,” Butler said. “It has been seen as only part of the work. I’m here to tell you, it is the work.”

The complaint says Butler failed to effect that type of change at BGE, highlighting numerous examples of alleged discrimination.

Former BGE worker Kevin Alston saw his life change for the better when he was hired in 2016 for one of the hard-to-get trainee jobs at the utility, Alston said in an interview. He said he saw little opportunity growing up in Northeast Baltimore, but a job as a gas mechanic meant a future with good pay and benefits, a way to provide for his family and his children’s education.


“BGE meant a lot to me, if you come from where I come from. You’re not going to mess that up,” he said. “They robbed me of that. It broke me.”

Alston, a plaintiff, believes he was wrongfully terminated in 2019 in retaliation for complaining about a co-worker’s use of the n-word. He asked to be moved and declined to file a formal report, according to the lawsuit. But the co-worker was disciplined, and “I felt instantly everyone treated me differently when I walked in the room,” he said in the interview. He was told he was being let go for violating work rules and conduct, including inflating hours and failing to respond to a gas emergency, which he denies.

Other workers, including four plaintiffs, said that at various times from 2007 through 2018, they witnessed instructor Joseph M. Belge tying a noose or displaying one, according to the lawsuit. The Baltimore Sun was unable to reach Belge, who is named as a defendant in the suit.

Hired in 2007, Malik Smith was one of the employees who said Belge tied a noose in his presence. The complaint accuses Belge of elaborating on the purpose of the knot, allegedly saying “that when people were hung by nooses, the intent was not to suffocate them, but to snap their necks.”

Smith notified the head of BGE’s training center about the incident, one of multiple complaints he raised about coworkers’ racist conduct over his 13-year career at the utility company, according to the lawsuit.

“No meaningful corrective action was taken to address any of his concerns,” the lawsuit says.


According to the lawsuit, Smith had an unblemished employment record, but was fired in October 2020 because he had tested positive several months earlier for traces of prescribed medical marijuana, the complaint says, describing it as “a patently pretextual reason.”

The most recent complaint of a noose demonstration came from Ajtiim Lee, a plaintiff who notified both his departmental leadership and human resources. BGE substantiated the allegation that year — 2018 — according to a personnel file report included in the lawsuit.

“Mr. Belge did not conduct himself in the manner expected of a BGE leader, and failed to demonstrate behaviors consistent with the core values,” said a warning dated October 2018.

The complaint alleges that no significant disciplinary action was taken against the instructor and that Lee was ostracized by his white coworkers. It also says Lee took his concerns about the noose-tying to Butler, but did not get a response.

Lee was fired Nov. 23, 2020, and told he was let go for using a company vehicle for personal business, the lawsuit says.

After he was fired, Lee posted on social media photos of Belge holding a noose in 2015, according to the complaint.


Those photos prompted BGE to reopen an investigation into Belge, and fire him in December 2020, the company said in its statement.

While the statement to The Sun did not name Belge, BGE acknowledged “offensive photos taken of a former training instructor inappropriately holding up a noose during a ropes and rigging training session. There is absolutely no authorized reason why any employee would tie, display, or discuss nooses in BGE’s workspaces — this is reprehensible and unacceptable.”

“BGE condemns hatred, discrimination, and violence in any form and is committed to building a more diverse, equitable, safe, and inclusive culture, both in our company and in the communities we serve,” the statement continued.

But for some former workers, those are empty words.

When calibration technician Randall Carroll asked a white coworker to complete an overdue task, she told other colleagues he threatened her life, according to the complaint. When he sat near her, chatting with another coworker with his arms crossed and while wearing his company-issued protective glasses, she accused him of bullying her.

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”Because they were dark shades and I’m African American, I guess they said I was intimidating,” Carroll told The Sun, adding a manager told him to change his “look.”


Carroll had almost completed 10 years at BGE when he was fired in September 2020 for not giving enough notice for an unscheduled vacation. The complaint says that was a bogus way for a manager to get rid of Carroll for his race.

Exelon policy says an employee terminated for cause is prohibited from working on an Exelon project or property for at least five years. That prohibits a fired employee from working for an Exelon contractor. Despite being a skilled worker and Marine Corps veteran, it’s been almost impossible for Carroll to find another job in the utility sector because Exelon owns the utility infrastructure.

Baña said she will seek to certify a class action on behalf of others who were unlawfully fired and banned from working in the industry at Exelon-owned projects or their contractors.

Carroll’s suing BGE to ensure that his children and grandchildren can work without discrimination.

“I just want them to go to work and be appreciated for what they know and what they’re able to do,” Carroll said. “If we can develop those types of atmospheres at work moving forward, the future will look a whole lot brighter for our children.”