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Attorney Alan Legum (seated right) with Dep. Chief Gregory Lawrence, who recently won his wrongful termination suit against the state of Maryland.

Race was discovered to be the motivating factor behind the dismissal of Deputy Chief Gregory Lawrence when he was fired from the BWI Airport Fire and Rescue Department (FRD) this past March. Judge Nancy Paige in Lawrence’s wrongful termination suit against the state has ordered for Lawrence to be reinstated back to his position and to receive full back pay and benefits.

“The combination of a racially inhospitable environment at BWI FRD and the ongoing failure of management to support integration into that environment . . . all lead me to conclude that it was more likely than not that the only reason for termination of was his race,” Paige wrote in a 55-page decision describing the racially hostile environment of the BWI fire service. “I conclude that would not have been terminated if he were not African American.”

Lawrence was fired this past March after an internal audit of his use of his state vehicle found what Paige dismissed as essentially minor discrepancies in Lawrence’s reporting of mileage, among other things.

The Maryland Aviation Authority, which defended Lawrence’s termination in court, claimed the audit was undertaken because of a minor accident with damages totaling less than $1000. The authority claimed that Lawrence’s use of the vehicle to pick up a personal prescription on his way to work was an inappropriate use for a state vehicle.

Paige, however, rejected this claim. She concluded that Lawrence’s termination was most likely because of his race. She even suggested that the audit was only undertaken when it appeared Lawrence might rise to the position of fire chief after the former chief’s retirement in 2013.

Though the decision was issued in his favor, Lawrence is not celebrating just yet.

“I feel pretty good, but it’s not over,” said Lawrence in comments to the AFRO. “I’m not working. I’ve not been made whole. I’m still on edge a little bit until… find out if I’m going to be returning to work.”

While Lawrence’s attorney, Alan Legum, is unsure of what the state will decide after the ruling, he suspects that the 84 distinct findings of racial discrimination in the final document will be evidence enough to reinstate Lawrence back to his position. “They would have a very difficult task legally to do anything with this decision,” said Legum.

For Henry Burris, one of the witnesses for Lawrence and second vice president of the Vulcan Blazer’s, Baltimore City’s chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF), the ruling represents a teaching moment in history of the United States fire service.

“If organizations . . . understood what I call systemic, institutional racism in the United States fire service, I think it could be a beginning of highlighting what African Americans go through by being fire fighters and paramedics throughout the United States,” said Burris.