LANDOVER, Md. (AP) _ A black man playing Santa Claus at a shopping mall says he was pressured to quit, but the mall's manager says he'd like to have him return to work.

Derrick Trice of Bladensburg, Md., said he would not return until he gets an apology from the management of Capital Plaza Mall.

Trice, 21, said he went to management on Tuesday to protest what he called continual ''harassment'' by mall employees over the past 2 1/2 weeks because he did not fit their image of Santa Claus.

''I love the kids, but I'm tired of being harassed (by adults),'' he said. ''If I went back and sat in that chair with my suit on, they would feel like they could call me 'nigger' and I would have to take it because I need the job.''

Mall management released a statement Wednesday dissociating itself from the complaints and saying Trice's return would be welcome.

''The Capital Plaza Mall believes that it is appropriate to have Santa Clauses of all races,'' the statement said. ''Unfortunately, some customers at the mall, both black and white, have expressed concerns with having a black Santa Claus.''

Mall manager Tom Breece denied that Trice had been asked to leave and said the man was ''upset, understandably, by customers questioning his acting as Santa Claus because he is black.''

Breece said he had not personally received any complaints and did not know of any employees who had.