Former NC division chief files gender discrimination lawsuit

Former Asheville Fire Department Division Chief Joy Ponder says she was unfairly moved to a desk job and faced harassment from Chief Scott Burnette


By Laura French

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A former North Carolina fire department division chief has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in federal court. 

The suit filed last week alleges that former Asheville Fire Department Division Chief Joy Ponder was reassigned to a desk job in June of last year and that her division chief position was given to a less-experienced male colleague, according to the Citizen Times. Ponder, the first woman at the department to rise to the rank of division chief, said that she only received positive performance reviews prior to the reassignment. 

Former Asheville Fire Department Division Chief Joy Ponder has filed a federal gender discrimination lawsuit claiming she was reassigned to a desk job last year and that her previous position was given to a less-experienced male colleague.
Former Asheville Fire Department Division Chief Joy Ponder has filed a federal gender discrimination lawsuit claiming she was reassigned to a desk job last year and that her previous position was given to a less-experienced male colleague. (Photo/Asheville Fire Department)

The lawsuit further alleges that Chief Scott Burnette harassed Ponder by regularly yelling at her, berating her and attempting to intimidate her, while male employees were not subjected to the same treatment. Additionally, the suit states that Ponder's role in department health and safety matters was stripped from her and given to less-experienced male employees, that she was questioned and challenged about a PTSD study she participated in while a male training officer who also participated was not, and that when some department members received new vehicles to prevent carcinogen exposure, including male employees who don't deal directly with fires, she did not receive a replacement vehicle, despite being a breast cancer survivor. 

Burnette has defended himself against the allegations and said Ponder's reassignment was due to her performance. At a previous Civil Service Board meeting, Burnette produced a performance letter dated June 27, 2019, but Ponder said she never received the letter or anything in writing indicating her performance was unsatisfactory. 

Ponder retired from the department on June 1, 2020. The city of Asheville has not yet responded to the suit. 

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