Former Fire Chief Sues NY Fire District for $4 Million

The former fire chief of the Hagerman Fire District has filed suit against the district and its board of directors alleging gender discrimination, hostile workplace, and retaliation under state and federal law. Nicole Pannhurst filed suit in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, New York’s Human Rights Law, and civil rights violations under 42 USC § 1983.

Chief Pannhurst claims that shortly after she became chief in 2021, the board began undermining her authority, making decisions without her knowledge or input, and even overruling discipline she imposed for personnel who were directly insubordinate to her. She reportedly complained to the board about what she perceived as gender discrimination, which merely made the harassment worse.

The complaint includes a litany of specific instances of these actions, including claims that the board ordered personnel to attend training without her knowledge or assent; ignored reported violations of the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) credit system; and permitted final LOSAP documentation to be submitted without her involvement or signature as required. She also claims that her replacement lacked the credentials that the board required of her.

The complaint seeks in excess of $4 million in damages plus punitive damages, costs and attorney’s fees, plus unspecified injunctive relief. The individual board members are sued both in the official capacity and personally.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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