First female Hagerman fire chief sues department over gender discrimination
The first female fire chief of the Hagerman Fire Department is suing the department and its Board of Commissioners for gender discrimination.
Nicole Pannhurst has spent more than 20 years as a member, climbing the ranks until she was elected the department’s first female chief in 2021. Throughout her tenure as chief, Pannhurst said she was met with resistance—mainly by members of the department’s Drill Team.
“There was an issue of whether members of the Drill Team were responding to alarms,” Pannhurst said. “In an effort to curb that, I told them that they needed to respond to the firehouse. While I was away, they had a board meeting at which point they decided that they would take a truck into the back where they were practicing and respond from there. I asked them to put the truck away and they refused.”
Pannhurst claims members undermined her authority, made important decisions without her knowledge, and reversed her suspensions of personnel. When she brought these concerns to the Board of Commissioners, Pannhurst said she was stonewalled.
According to the lawsuit, Pannhurst was subjected to constant undermining, embarrassment, usurping and curtailing of authority and faced open and indirect gender based aggression.
“I’ve served in the department the same way they have,” Pannhurst said. “I’ve gone to the same classes they have. I’ve gone to the same drills, the same trainings. I honestly don’t see any other reason.”
Pannhurst sought input from the State Division of Human Rights to lay the groundwork for a potential federal case. They determined the defendants are engaging in unlawful discriminatory practices.
“The State Division of Human Rights made a determination there was probable cause to believe discrimination had taken place and their investigation was a very thorough one,” said Fred Brewington, Pannhurst’s attorney.
Pannhurst is seeking $4 million in damages. The Hagerman Fire Department and its Board of Commissioners tell News 12 they are aware of the complaint and are unable to make a comment due to the pending litigation.