Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Black fireman files $1M suit in Grasonville

The first black member of the Grasonville Volunteer Fire Department has filed a $1 million racial discrimination lawsuit against the department.

Oscar L. Price alleges his white colleagues “embarrassed and mocked him by taking pictures of themselves in stereotypical, urban gang member style,” among other forms of harassment and retaliation, according to the lawsuit, filed June 19 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Price also claims the department hid his equipment after Price filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in spring 2010.

“There is a historical problem at the fire department in Grasonville of rampant racism and mismanagement, and we look forward to the opportunity to put an end to it in a court of law,” said Carey J. Hansel III, a principal with Joseph, Greenwald & Laake P.A. in Greenbelt and Price’s lawyer.

Roger N. Powell, the department’s lawyer, called the lawsuit “frivolous and without merit” and its claims “outrageous.”

“None of this is true,” said Powell, a Pikesville solo practitioner, adding the department has had other black members as well as a black chief.

Price, who joined the department in 1983 and is its first black life member, worked as an engineer and driver, according to the complaint. The harassment began in 2009 under the department’s new president, Robert Sharp, according to the complaint. That December, Price was unable to attend the department’s annual elections, so he submitted his votes in a sealed envelope, according to the complaint.

Sharp “made a spectacle of Mr. Price” by throwing his ballot in the trash in front of the entire department, the lawsuit states. Powell, the department’s lawyer, said Price was not eligible to vote because he had not attended at least 10 meetings during the year as required under department bylaws.

Price also alleges he was asked to rent a tractor to clear snow in the department’s parking lot during the winters of 2010 and 2011 with promises the department would cover his expenses, the lawsuit states. But he has yet to be reimbursed for the $1,950, which includes 35 hours of labor, even though the department has repaid a white man who also cleared the parking lot of snow, the lawsuit states.

Powell countered that Price volunteered to plow snow and that no one at the department said Price or anyone else would get paid for their services. Price was awarded more than $600 from the department in April 2013 in Queen Anne County District Court, which Powell said covered the cost of renting the tractor.

In September, the EEOC found the department could held liable for members’ conduct toward Price. Attempts at conciliation failed and Price received his notice of right to sue in March, according to the complaint.

Powell said the conciliation process failed because the department was denied discovery, at which point it stopped negotiations.

Price’s lawsuit seeks damages for race discrimination, a racially hostile work environment and retaliation.

The case is Price v. Grasonville Volunteer Fire Department, 1:14-cv-01989-ELH.