This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The first female battalion chief for the Salt Lake City Fire Department was wrongly demoted a year ago after alleging misconduct, the Salt Lake City Civil Service Commission has ruled.
Martha Ellis, a 22-year-veteran firefighter, was demoted May 3, 2016, to captain by then-Assistant Chief Robert McMicken.
He asserted that Ellis had demonstrated an "apparent lack of engagement with [her] current assignment, a lack of ownership of [her] job responsibilities, an inability or unwillingness to follow instructions and a lack of respect for [her] chain of command."
After a two-day hearing, the commission ruled Thursday that the allegations were not borne out by the facts.
As a result, she has been restored to her position as battalion chief, according to Jaqualin Friend Peterson, who represents Ellis.
In a prepared statement, Ellis said she was "thrilled with the outcome."
"Despite substantial evidence supporting my claim, the city has continued to double down on the inconsistent position that the three chiefs, former Chief Brian Dale, Fire Chief Karl Lieb and Deputy Chief McMicken, have taken against my character," she said. "This has felt like nothing more than a personal attack on me and my efforts to advance within the Salt Lake City Fire Department."
City Hall spokesman Matthew Rojas said the municipality does not comment on employee issues.
Ellis was fired two months ago for not returning to work as ordered March 1, after six months of leave for mental health issues suffered due to the unexpected demotion, her statement said.
According to Ellis, she made a good-faith effort to return to duty, but the department was unwilling to provide her proposed accommodations and terminated her.
After many months off the job, she had requested short-term refresher training, a physical exam, an opportunity to run through the department's physical ability test, and receive and Occupational Safety and Health Administration test on her breathing apparatus mask.
Further, she asked for "a reasonable degree of separation" from Lieb and McMicken. Ellis had filed a claim in 3rd District Court against them for whistleblower retaliation and sexual (gender-based) harassment, discrimination and retaliation, leading to a hostile work environment. That action has now been transferred to federal court.
The suit asserts that in March 2015 she uncovered information that suggested the department was allowing members of its executive team to pursue outside endeavors on city time without disclosure or pay reduction.
The complaint also says certain employees were paid for a 40-hour week when they worked three 12-hour shifts.
Further, Ellis' suit states that she received pressure to use her influence to get "a seal of approval" from the department's engineering committee for concrete bike lanes on 300 South that narrowed the roadway, rendering it out of compliance with state fire code. She refused to cover up the "deliberate violation of the state fire code," it states.
Ellis also refused to cover up the lack of smoke detectors in Fire Station 2 before a fire there in March 2015, according to the filing.
The legal claim seeks reinstatement of Ellis to her previous position as battalion chief, back pay and benefits. It also seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress, damage to her reputation and loss of enjoyment of life.