Former Texas Chief Files Discrimination Suit

An assistant chief in Texas who was terminated in 2021 has filed suit alleging gender discrimination. Assistant Chief/Director of Communications Elisa Noriega filed suit today in US District Court for the Southern District of Texas naming the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department and Montgomery County Emergency Services District No. 10 as defendants.

Chief Noriega’s complaint alleges that:

  • During her employment with MVFD and MCESD, Noriega was always dependable and always met (and usually exceeded) expectations.
  • Employee of MVFD and MCESD are encouraged to continue their education, attend industry trainings and conferences.
  • However, during her employment with MVFD and MCESD, she was denied training and certification opportunities as well as prohibited from attending trainings and conference while her male counterparts were allowed to continue their industry education by attending trainings and conferences.
  • Noriega was intentionally excluded from Chief Hevey’s meetings with her fellow male Assistant Chiefs.
  • Noriega was denied opportunities and treated less favorably because she is female.
  • In July of 2021, because MVFD and MCESD did not have a human resources department, Noriega complained to Larry Smith, MCESD’s Board President, about the discriminatory treatment, but MVFD and MCESD did nothing.
  • In November of 2021, Noriega complained directly to Chief Hevey about the discriminatory treatment, but MVFD and MCESD.
  • Almost immediately after Noriega’s complaint to Chief Hevey she was abruptly terminated.
  • MVFD and MCESD’s alleged legitimate non-discriminatory reason for Noriega’s termination was that she had a class A misdemeanor conviction on her record.
  • At the same time, there were and continue to be many male MVFD and MCESD employees that have class A misdemeanor conviction on their records that were not terminated.

The complaint alleges gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Texas Labor Code. Here is a copy of the complaint.

In 2021, we covered some unfortunate internal conflicts within the MVFD and MCESD. During that time Chief Noriega’s credentials were called into question by a web site, The Golden Hammer. However, the following details should be considered to balance questions raised about her appointment. She was brought in to manage the fire department’s public face to the media, social media, and a multi-lingual public. In other words, she was not brought in to be an operational firefighter, but rather to work on administrative matters. This information was available at: https://www.magnoliafire.org/mvfd-director-of-communications/

  • Ms. Noriega has a Master’s degree in Business Administration, has worked for both the Department of Homeland Security and The Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as having served as a Police Officer in Texas.
  • Ms. Noriega has enjoyed an extensive successful career in the real estate and communications arena and has received numerous recognitions for her expertise in Marketing and Advertising.
  • In addition, Ms. Noriega speaks four languages and is passionate about the great work our firefighters do in the community each and every day.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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