BWI fire chief to challenge his termination

Maryland Aviation Administration officials have not explained decision, attorney says

  • Gregory Lawrence, who was terminated as acting chief of the BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport‚ fire and rescue department last week, said Monday that he plans to challenge the decision.
Gregory Lawrence, who was terminated as acting chief of the… (Kevin Rector, Baltimore…)
March 10, 2014|By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

Gregory Lawrence said Monday he plans to appeal the Maryland Aviation Administration's decision last week to terminate him from his job as BWI Airport's acting fire chief.

Lawrence, the first African-American to lead the airport fire department, initially got his job there after complaining about racial discrimination. He feels his termination may be retaliation for that lawsuit he brought against the department more than a decade ago.

"I want my job back," he said during a news conference in the Annapolis offices of his attorney, Alan Legum, where he was flanked by more than a dozen African-American leaders and fire officials from around the region.

Jonathan Dean, an MAA spokesman, has said the airport is committed to fair and equal hiring practices and values diversity, but that airport officials do not comment on personnel matters.

"As with any employee action, the MAA followed applicable rules, regulations and policies," Dean said Monday. "He has been advised of his appeal rights, and, as this is a personnel matter, I won't offer further comment."

The termination came one day before the MAA announced the hiring of a new fire chief, Victor N. Ferreira Jr., who is Hispanic, and several days after complaints about a recent all-white class of firefighter recruits from the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Twenty-six percent of the airport fire department's 89 employees are either minorities or women, Dean said. Thirteen percent are African-American, Dean said.

Legum called Lawrence's termination an "absolute violation of due process" that has not been explained, and one he will appeal to the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings in Hunt Valley.

MAA officials repeatedly declined to answer why Lawrence was being terminated from his job at a March 5 meeting, said Legum, who also attended the meeting. Lawrence was given 30 minutes to clear his office and leave the premieses after the meeting, Legum said.

Legum said Lawrence did not know of anything related to his job performance that would have raised an issue.

Legum said the termination has been "devastating personally" for Lawrence. He is receiving his salary until March 14, based on personal leave, and may be entitled to further compensation based on accrued vacation.

Lawrence is a Salisbury native and Marine Corps veteran who has been a fire chief in Hawaii and worked as an environmental manager at an airport in California. After applying for a job with the MAA in 2001, he was denied the position. He filed a complaint directly with the MAA, and eventually sued the BWI fire and rescue department in 2003 for discriminatory hiring practices.

In 2006, Lawrence received $100,000 in a settlement with the state, in which the MAA maintained there had been no discrimination. He was hired as deputy chief of the department in 2007 and named acting chief in November.

Without an explanation for the termination, Legum said, he and Lawrence "have to believe this is retaliation for Chief Lawrence's six-year battle to get his position."

Several back leaders in Legum's offices Monday called on Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown to reinstate Lawrence and address what they said were racial disparities in the fire department.

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