Update Friday 4:20 p.m. PTC clarifies that Eiswerth resigned, did not retire as first mentioned
Peachtree City Fire Chief Edwin Eiswerth has resigned this week following a sexual harassment and retaliation complaint from a 49-year-old female firefighter, Martine Piers.
Peachtree City released a statement Thursday afternoon stating that Eiswerth is resigning effective Jan. 1 and that the city is aware of the allegations and is conducting an investigation. The city said Eiswerth’s last day on duty was Tuesday and that he is on paid leave through the end of the year.
The Dec. 13 federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint by Piers — provided by her attorney Steve Mixon to The Citizen — alleges a number of sexually-related incidents that had their genesis after Piers began working as a volunteer firefighter in 2007. The alleged actions ranged from flirtation to asking for sex to forcing his way into her hotel room while attending a conference last month in Florida.
Contacted Thursday, Peachtree City Clerk Betsy Tyler provided a statement confirming that Eiswerth has announced his retirement effective Jan.1, adding that his last day on duty was Dec. 18 and that Eiswerth is using leave time until the end of the year. Assistant Fire Chief Joe O’Conor will lead the department in the interim.
Tyler said the city first became aware of the allegations on Dec. 17 and, “is still investigating this matter and gathering facts. The city has a very strong policy prohibiting workplace harassment and similar conduct, and has taken an aggressive stance to prohibit and remedy such conduct in the past.”
The EEOC complaint states that Piers began as a volunteer firefighter in 2007 and obtained a full-time position in late 2010.
“Chief Eiswerth has always expressed a sexual interest in me,” the complaint said, noting that it was after Piers went to full-time paid status that Eiswerth would often come by the station when she was on shift and would sometimes want to talk for extended periods. “(I) made it clear that I was not interested in pursuing a sexual relationship.”
The complaint said Eiswerth accepted Piers’ 2011 application for appointment to the department’s Board of Volunteers. Eiswerth subsequently asked Piers if she was familiar with the term “friends with benefits” and implied he would take care of her needs, the complaint said.
“Chief Eiswerth told me that he has had sexual relations with other subordinate female firefighters and is very discreet,” Piers said.
Piers said she, along with approximately eight other firefighters and Eiswerth attended a Volunteer and Combination Officers Section (VFCOS) in November 2011 where Eiswerth, “kept trying to get me to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, made it a point to always sit by me and one night said, ‘what will it take to get you to have sex with me?’ I responded that is was not going to happen.”
Piers in the complaint maintains that Eiswerth reiterated that he “done this before” and would be discreet and that she “can’t blame a guy for trying.”
The complaint states that in 2011 and 2012 Eiswerth sent Piers so many text messages that she had to change her phone number and would sometimes ask if her could come to her house. Those advances were rejected, Piers said.
Piers said it was last month when things got out of hand at the VCOS conference in Clearwater, Florida.
“During the conference, Chief Eiswerth was even more actively trying to get me drunk,” Piers said.
The complaint maintains that, at one point, the firefighters attending the conference went to her hotel room, though all left just before 10 p.m. when she said she wanted to go to sleep.
“… but Chief Eiswerth did not want to leave. (He) kept saying this was our opportunity. I kept insisting that he leave, and ultimately he did. Within minutes of him leaving he started texting me. (He) said he couldn’t believe that I made him leave, that everyone was asleep and that he wanted to come back up,” the complaint said.
Piers in the complaint said Eiswerth returned to her room at approximately 10:25 p.m. and forced his way in.
“At that point I feared for my safety. I was scared. With him in my room, I went to the doorway and refused to go back into the room,” Piers said, noting that Eiswerth continued to ask her to come back into the room and said they could have a lot of fun. “I repeatedly told him I did not want to have sex with him. Finally, he came outside but was very angry,”
The complaint says Eiswerth continue to text Piers, wanting to come up to her room.
“I knew he would continue to pressure me to have sexual relations with him if I allowed him to come back to my room,” the complaint said.
Piers said after the group returned to Peachtree City Eiswerth announced that he was looking for a new applicant to the Board of Volunteers.
“The city … is investigating this matter and gathering facts,” according to Tyler, the city clerk and public information officer. “The city haas a very strong policy prohibiting workplace harassment and similar conduct, and has taken an aggressive stance to prohibit and remedy such conduct in the past.”
The city also is defending Police Department Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark currently against an EEOC complaint filed by a former subordinate who alleged that Clark retaliated against her and caused her to be transferred out of the department. Lisa Ficalore’s EEOC complaint alleged only retaliation, not sexual harassment.
Eiswerth has been chief since mid-2007. According to stories published in The Citizen in 2007, Peachtree City didn’t have to go far to select an acting fire chief to replace the retiring Stony Lohr in early 2007.
The department’s assistant chief, Eiswerth, was named to the position by then-City Manager Bernie McMullen.
In addition to serving as assistant chief under Lohr, Eiswerth worked with Lohr at the Weber Fire Station which came to be affectionately known as “Fort Weber” with the military style under which Lohr and Eiswerth operated it when they were on duty. Both were retired lieutenant colonels from the military.
Eiswerth first joined the Peachtree City Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter/EMT from 1989 to 1992, earning recognition as rookie of the year in 1989 and firefighter of the year in 1990 and 1991. He left the department in 1992, but returned as a full time firefighter/EMT in 1994, earning his paramedic certification in 1995.
Eiswerth was promoted to operations/EMS captain in June of 1998, and was named assistant chief/operations in October of 2001.
Eiswerth has a Masters of Science in public administration and a Bachelor of Science in forestry. He is a Level 3 certified fire officer and Fire Instructor, a level one certified fire inspector, and a certified hazardous materials first responder.
[The following is the “Charge of Discrimination” filed by the 49-year-old female volunteer firefighter with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:]
I began working for the above-named employer as a volunteer around 2007. Around November 2010, I was hired as a full-time firefighter.
Chief Edwin Eiswerth has always expressed a sexual interest in me. As a volunteer firefighter, Chief Eiswerth flirted with me, but I felt no pressure to engage in a sexual relationship with him.
However, after I started full-time in November, 2010, Chief Eiswerth would come by the station where I was working on most of my shifts. Chief Eiswerth would come by when he was off duty, and want to talk — sometimes for hours.
I engaged in conversation with Chief Eiswerth, but I made it clear that I was not interested in pursuing a sexual relationship. Despite this, Chief Eiswerth continually pursued a sexual relationship.
In January, 2011, Chief Eiswerth accepted my application and appointed me to the Board of Volunteers. I believe in part Chief Eiswerth appointed me so that we would have more opportunities to spend time together and to attend conferences together.
Chief Eiswerth asked me if I was familiar with the term “friends with benefits” and implied that he could take care of my needs.
Chief Eiswerth told me that he has had sexual relationships with other subordinate female firefighters and that he is very discreet.
In November, 2011, I attended the VCOS conference with Chief Eiswerth and approximately 8 other Peachtree City firefighters.
Chief Eiswerth kept trying to get me to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, made it a point to always sit by me, and one night he said, “What will it take to get you to have sex with me?”
I responded that it was not going to happen, and he said, “You can’t blame a guy for trying. We will be discreet. I have done this before, it will be OK.”
I made it clear that I did not want to have a sexual relationship with Chief Eiswerth. I kept telling Chief Eiswerth that I was not interested, but he continued to pressure me to have a sexual relationship with him.
In 2011 and 2012, Chief Eiswerth texted me so often that I had to change my phone number approximately every four months.
Chief Eiswerth would ask me to meet him somewhere for a drink because he wanted someone to talk to, or want to come over to my house. I rejected all his advances.
Also in 2012, Chief Eiswerth came to the bunk where I was sleeping; he pulled back the curtain on my bunk, and said, “You’re not asleep, are you?” I told him I was asleep, and refused to talk at length.
Things got really out of hand at the VCOS Conference in November 2012. This conference was in Clearwater, Florida. During this conference, Chief Eiswerth was even more actively trying to get me drunk.
I had been assigned a suite, and it was cold outside, so all of the Peachtree City firefighters came back to my room after dinner. Just before 10 p.m., I made it clear that I was ready to go to bed.
The other firefighters left, but Chief Eiswerth did not want to leave. Chief Eiswerth kept saying this was our opportunity.
I kept insisting that he leave, and ultimately he did leave. Within minutes of him leaving, he started texting me. Some of the texts from Chief Eiswerth are attached.
Chief Eiswerth said he couldn’t believe that I made him leave, that everyone was asleep, and that he wanted to come back up.
Around 10:25 p.m,. Chief Eiswerth came back to my room, and forced his way in; at that point I feared for my safety. I was scared.
With him in my room, I went to the doorway and refused to go back into the room. Chief Eiswerth continued to ask me to come back into the room and talk with him, saying this was our opportunity and we could have a lot of fun.
I repeatedly told Chief Eiswerth I did not want to have sex with him. Finally, Chief Eiswerth came outside, but was very angry.
Chief Eiswerth said, we will both regret this. Ultimately, he left, however he continued to text me saying that everyone was asleep, that we should not miss this opportunity, and that it was still early, and wanting to come back up to my room. I knew that he would continue to pressure me to have sexual relations with him if I allowed him to come back to my room.
When we got back to Peachtree City, Chief Eiswerth announced to the department that he was looking for a new applicant to the Board of Volunteers.
Chief Eiswerth still came by my station and wanted to talk with me. I refused to talk with him other than to say we’re OK.
I believe I have been sexually harassed and retaliated against in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.