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Deputy Fire Chief Alleges Sex Discrimination

Deputy Fire Chief Alleges Sex Discrimination

Deputy Chief Martha Younts. Photo: David Holston/HPE

High Point Enterprise

May 03, 2011

HIGH POINT, N.C. — The top-ranking female member of the High Point Fire Department has accused City Manager Strib Boynton of gender discrimination by denying her a promotion.

Deputy Chief Martha Younts told the City Council Monday she filed a grievance with the city against Boynton, arguing that her qualifications, education and experience exceed those of recently-appointed Interim Chief Lee Knight, who Boynton picked to lead the department following the retirement of former Chief David Taylor. The search process to select and appoint the new, permanent chief has not started.

Younts said Boynton spoke with her on several occasions since August 1999 about assuming the chief’s position. Younts’ attorney, Ashley Duncan of Charlotte, told the council that “she was promised the fire chief position by the city manager and he failed to follow through because of her gender.”

“I really want to be the chief here, and I assumed that I was going to be from Mr. Boynton’s comments from the past 12 years,” Younts said. “My life has been the fire department, and for 30 years, and especially for the last 12, all I have done is groom myself, as Mr. Boynton told me I needed to, to become the chief here. Nobody that’s come through this department has had as much education and experience as I have in the last 30 years. I have been in every facet of the fire service.”

Younts made her allegations during the public comment portion of the council’s meeting. State personnel laws keep most information about public employees private, but the council voted to allow Boynton to respond after finding that it was necessary to release information about the case in order to preserve public confidence in city services.

“I emphatically deny (Younts’) allegations that she was promised the position of fire chief or denied the promotion based on her gender, because there’s been no appointment of a new fire chief,” Boynton said. “The whole point is, we haven’t started the search process, so what are you grieving?”

Younts, who joined the department in 1981 and became its first full-time female firefighter, holds one of three deputy chief positions, which is the tier in the department hierarchy just below the chief’s position. Knight was one of six battalion chiefs, who rank below the deputy chiefs. Younts, who is eligible to retire in August, claimed Boynton asked her in February not to retire for another two years because Taylor would be leaving soon, leading her to believe she would be appointed chief.

Boynton said he made the “temporary promotion” of Knight to interim chief, in part because of recent “management lapses” within the department that resulted in the city paying a $57,000 fine for 17 violations of state Occupational Safety and Health Act regulations by the department, which had to do with deficiencies in firefighters’ training, equipment and safety.

Boynton said Younts has “senior executive management responsibility for technical services, including facility maintenance, apparatus maintenance, equipment testing, uniforms and other related duties.”

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