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City liquor board inspector files $1.7M discrimination lawsuit against agency

A white inspector with Baltimore city’s liquor board has filed a $1.7 million discrimination lawsuit against his employer, alleging he was passed over for the position of chief inspector in favor of a younger and less-qualified black applicant.

Mark Fosler, who is in his 60s, also claims liquor board officials retaliated against him by assigning him an inspection in West Baltimore during April’s riots, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Fosler was “beaten and hospitalized” while on duty as he came to the aid of a police officer when the crowd tried to take the officer’s gun, according to the lawsuit.

Fosler served as acting chief inspector last year until the Board of Liquor License Commissioners selected Shelton Jones Jr., a retired police officer in his 40s, as permanent chief inspector, the complaint states. The liquor board then “covered up” its decision by claiming Fosler was named in a state audit criticizing the liquor board’s performance, according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, executive secretary of the liquor board, said she was aware of the lawsuit but could not comment because the litigation is pending. Bailey-Hedgepeth told the city’s Board of Estimates in November that Jones was the “best person for the job” out of 55 candidates interviewed.

Fosler has been a liquor board inspector for 10 years, the complaint states. He was recommended to be acting chief inspector in August 2013 by his predecessor, Ralph Gilliam, who praised Fosler for clearing up a backlog of complaints, giving advice to other inspectors and regularly volunteering for evening operations, the lawsuit states.

Passed over

Fosler’s “contributions were considered to be invaluable to the BLLC Inspection Division and to the agency,” the complaint states.

Fosler applied to be permanent chief inspector and interviewed for the position, according to the lawsuit. He alleges he also was passed over for chief inspector because he took off time for health reasons, even though he has since fully recovered.

The lawsuit claims Commissioner Harvey E. Jones, who is black, “specifically targeted Fosler” and tried to block him from moving up the inspector ranks.

“Jones … has played politics and racial animosity while on the BLLC,” the complaint states.

Harvey Jones, who has been on the liquor board since 2011, is not related to Shelton Jones.

The lawsuit seeks damages for discrimination, retaliation and civil conspiracy.

Edward Smith Jr., Fosler’s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment. Smith is a Baltimore solo practitioner.

The case is Mark Fosler v. State of Maryland, et al., 24C15002857.