North Carolina Division Chief Files Sexual Harassment Suit

A North Carolina division chief who retired earlier this year, has filed suit alleging she had been sexually harassed and discriminated against. Division Chief Joy Ponder filed suit in US District Court for the Western District of North Carolina against the City of Ashville.

Chief Ponder claims that she was a high performing member of the department who was discipline-free through-out her 21 year career with the Ashville Fire Department. In 2014 she was promoted to division chief and assigned as a shift commander until June of 2019, when she was reassigned to a staff position to work on the department’s strategic plan.

The complaint alleges there was no valid reason for the transfer to days, and that it had a profoundly negative effect on Chief Ponder’s personal and professional life. She accused the chief and a deputy chief of asking her to say the transfer was voluntary on her part. She further alleges that after-the-fact the fire chief produced a letter he never shared with her outlining certain performance deficiencies that served as his basis for the transfer.

The complaint alleges that Chief Ponder had been yelled at, harassed and intimidated requiring her to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 2019. She filed two internal grievances with the city’s HR for a hostile work environment. Investigations into those allegations concluded “there was no evidence of hostile, adverse or inappropriate conduct.”

The complaint includes three causes of action: gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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