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Black firefighter’s lawsuit survives another challenge by Grasonville VFD

A federal judge has again rejected the Grasonville Volunteer Fire Department’s attempt to throw out a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by a former firefighter.

The department’s motion for summary judgment, as in an earlier motion to dismiss, argued Oscar L. Price’s lawsuit should be rejected because federal law only protects employees against discrimination, not volunteers such as Price.

But U.S. District Court Judge Ellen L. Hollander ruled Friday that Price is entitled to discovery to determine if he received tax exemptions, life insurance benefits, disability pensions or other benefits that would transform him into an employee under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.

“I remain of the view that the issue of Price’s employment status is a question of fact that cannot be decided at this early juncture,” Hollander wrote.

Hollander denied the department’s motion to dismiss in January.

Price, who was the first black member of the department when he joined in 1983, filed a $1 million racial discrimination lawsuit in June. Price’s lawsuit 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 dating back to 2009.

A lawyer for the department has called the lawsuit “frivolous and without merit” and noted the department has other black members as well as a black chief.

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