News & Features

Former Evergreen Firefighter Files Discrimination Complaint Against Department

Department denies allegations; current firefighter says complaint hurts department’s image

A former Evergreen firefighter has filed a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Network alleging that she was the victim of discrimination and was wrongfully terminated.

On Dec. 30, Presley Pritchard filed a complaint stating that other Evergreen Fire Rescue employees harassed her about photos she shared on social media. The fire department has denied the allegations.

Pritchard has more than 82,000 followers on Instagram, where she shares images of herself working out. She also sells fitness and health guides online and has a handful of sponsorships where she promotes products on her profile.

According to the complaint, Pritchard was hired as a firefighter and paramedic in 2016. In 2018, the department’s board of trustees received a complaint from a “concerned tax payer” about Pritchard’s social media presence, which occasionally featured images of her in uniform. The note stated, “Are you aware you have a family member posing practically nude on her Instagram page with FD (sic) uniform and representation on the same page? Very poor taste that this is allowed.”

Pritchard attended a board meeting soon after and defended her use of social media, noting that male employees were also posting images on social media and that the department had no policy regarding social media use. Pritchard’s complaint states that during the meeting she was subjected to “sexist and discriminative comments.”

Over the next year, Pritchard and fire department leadership butted heads over a number of issues, according to the complaint. On one occasion, Pritchard said fire marshal Ben Covington accused her of using taxpayer equipment for the benefit of her side business. According to the complaint, Covington stated it was inappropriate for Pritchard to pose in a T-shirt ad while wearing department-issued pants. Pritchard said she later deleted the image and replaced it with one taken without the department-issued equipment.

According to the complaint, in early 2019, Pritchard was demoted and told that if she did not delete all social media posts related to her job that she would be terminated. Pritchard did not delete any of the posts. According to the complaint, in August 2019, she was fired.

In a statement to the Beacon, Fire Chief Craig Williams wrote, “We have on our roster a diverse staff of 54 dedicated individuals of which nearly half are female. The District takes very seriously all allegations it receives concerning workplace conditions. While the Complainant never made or reported any allegations to the District while she was employed, the District hired an independent investigator to complete an investigation concerning the validly of the complaints. After a thorough investigation, no evidence was found to support any of the Complainant’s allegations.”

Williams wrote that the department could make no further comment on the matter.

In an interview with the Beacon, volunteer firefighter Kaitlyn Barnhof said she hoped that the controversy surrounding the complaint would not negatively impact the department’s public image. She said she has not experienced any harassment at the department.

“This is a family and people might bicker at each other, just like they do in any family, but at the end of the day we all have each other’s backs,” she said.

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