Georgia Fire Chief Accused of Sexual Improprieties with Subordinate

Amidst allegations that he pressured a subordinate to have sex, the fire chief in Peachtree City, Georgia has announced his retirement.

Fire Chief Edwin Eiswerth announced that his retirement will be effective January 1, 2013, and that he will use accrued leave through the remainder of the year. The announcement comes on the heels of a complaint filed with the Federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) by Martine Piers, a 49 year old firefighter.

Piers claims the chief repeatedly propositioned and pressured her for sex over the course of years. The abuse reached its peak in November, 2012 during a trip to a training conference in Florida. She alleges that her refusal to submit to his requests for sex prompted retaliation.

The following is taken from the complaint that Piers filed with the EEOC:

I began working for the above-named employer as a volunteer around 2007. Around November 2010, I was hired as a full-time firefighter. Chief Edwin Eiswerth has always expressed a sexual interest in me. As a volunteer firefighter, Chief Eiswerth flirted with me, but I felt no pressure to engage in a sexual relationship with him.

However, after I started full-time in November, 2010, Chief Eiswerth would come by the station where I was working on most of my shifts. Chief Eiswerth would come by when he was off duty, and want to talk — sometimes for hours.

I engaged in conversation with Chief Eiswerth, but I made it clear that I was not interested in pursuing a sexual relationship. Despite this, Chief Eiswerth continually pursued a sexual relationship.

In January, 2011, Chief Eiswerth accepted my application and appointed me to the Board of Volunteers. I believe in part Chief Eiswerth appointed me so that we would have more opportunities to spend time together and to attend conferences together. Chief Eiswerth asked me if I was familiar with the term “friends with benefits” and implied that he could take care of my needs.

Chief Eiswerth told me that he has had sexual relationships with other subordinate female firefighters and that he is very discreet. In November, 2011, I attended the VCOS conference with Chief Eiswerth and approximately 8 other Peachtree City firefighters. Chief Eiswerth kept trying to get me to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, made it a point to always sit by me, and one night he said, “What will it take to get you to have sex with me?” I responded that it was not going to happen, and he said, “You can’t blame a guy for trying. We will be discreet. I have done this before, it will be OK.”

I made it clear that I did not want to have a sexual relationship with Chief Eiswerth. I kept telling Chief Eiswerth that I was not interested, but he continued to pressure me to have a sexual relationship with him. In 2011 and 2012, Chief Eiswerth texted me so often that I had to change my phone number approximately every four months.

Chief Eiswerth would ask me to meet him somewhere for a drink because he wanted someone to talk to, or want to come over to my house. I rejected all his advances. Also in 2012, Chief Eiswerth came to the bunk where I was sleeping; he pulled back the curtain on my bunk, and said, “You’re not asleep, are you?” I told him I was asleep, and refused to talk at length.

Things got really out of hand at the VCOS Conference in November 2012. This conference was in Clearwater, Florida. During this conference, Chief Eiswerth was even more actively trying to get me drunk. I had been assigned a suite, and it was cold outside, so all of the Peachtree City firefighters came back to my room after dinner. Just before 10 p.m., I made it clear that I was ready to go to bed.

The other firefighters left, but Chief Eiswerth did not want to leave. Chief Eiswerth kept saying this was our opportunity. I kept insisting that he leave, and ultimately he did leave. Within minutes of him leaving, he started texting me. Some of the texts from Chief Eiswerth are attached.

Chief Eiswerth said he couldn’t believe that I made him leave, that everyone was asleep, and that he wanted to come back up. Around 10:25 p.m,. Chief Eiswerth came back to my room, and forced his way in; at that point I feared for my safety. I was scared.

With him in my room, I went to the doorway and refused to go back into the room. Chief Eiswerth continued to ask me to come back into the room and talk with him, saying this was our opportunity and we could have a lot of fun. I repeatedly told Chief Eiswerth I did not want to have sex with him. Finally, Chief Eiswerth came outside, but was very angry.

Chief Eiswerth said, we will both regret this. Ultimately, he left, however he continued to text me saying that everyone was asleep, that we should not miss this opportunity, and that it was still early, and wanting to come back up to my room. I knew that he would continue to pressure me to have sexual relations with him if I allowed him to come back to my room.

When we got back to Peachtree City, Chief Eiswerth announced to the department that he was looking for a new applicant to the Board of Volunteers. Chief Eiswerth still came by my station and wanted to talk with me. I refused to talk with him other than to say we’re OK.

I believe I have been sexually harassed and retaliated against in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.


More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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