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Fire chief returns to BWI airport job after discrimination ruling

Gregory Lawrence, who was terminated as acting chief of the BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport's fire and rescue department.
Gregory Lawrence, who was terminated as acting chief of the BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport's fire and rescue department. (Kevin Rector, Baltimore Sun)

A black deputy fire chief whose termination from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport was overturned on the grounds of racial discrimination last month will return to his post Wednesday, according to his attorney.

Gregory Lawrence, the first African American to lead the airport's fire department, was fired by the Maryland Aviation Administration in March after a short stint as acting chief. The MAA said he was fired for misusing his department vehicle. Lawrence, who was making $93,516 annually, claimed his termination was racially motivated and a symptom of broader racial tensions within the department.

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An administrative law judge agreed with Lawrence last month, finding a "racially inhospitable environment" within the BWI department. She reversed his termination and ordered he receive back pay.

Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman, said the state is appealing the judge's ruling in the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County, but confirmed Lawrence's reinstatement was scheduled for Wednesday.

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Dean said the airport "fully expects a professional environment for all employees" upon his return.

Alan Legum, Lawrence's attorney, said Lawrence "plans to do his job as best he can and focus on whatever tasks are assigned to him" as deputy chief.

"It is our expectation that he will not have any further problems at the BWI Fire Department," Legum said in an email. "There is a chain of command and it is anticipated that subordinates will follow his directives and orders as they are required to do."

Lawrence's return to work Wednesday will mark his second start at the department after a successful discrimination claim.

He first applied to the department in 2001 and was denied employment. In 2003 he filed a lawsuit alleging disciminatory hiring practices. The case was settled when the MAA offered Lawrence a $100,000 settlement and a job — without admitting any wrongdoing. Lawrence started working at the department in 2007.

Legum said the appellate process in Circuit Court could take up to a year.

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