CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - Linda Lockhart, Charlotte's first black female firefighter, gave a passionate speech to City Council this week, saying she believes her pay should be higher, after she compared her compensation with two white employees who do similar work.
Then she delivered something of a farewell.
"I want you to know how they are going to fire me or harass me (for speaking tonight)," she said. "I voted for you, and now I want my vote to count. You aren't listening to anything firefighters are saying out there."
Lockhart said she's fed up with not being listened to, and said she's made peace with what she believes will be punishment or termination from her supervisors for speaking out.
"They told me I better be perfect (or I'll be fired)," she said once her colleagues learned she would speak at council.
As she spoke to council, Lockhart asked if council members were going to do anything. Mayor Jennifer Roberts said it's not the council's policy to respond during the citizen's forum, but she said, "we are listening."
Roberts issued a statement Tuesday that the "allegations are deeply troubling" and that she has asked the city managed to "ensure the fair and equal treatment of all our employees."
Lockhart was hired by the city in 1981. She said she was a firefighter for 25 years before retiring in 2007.
She came out of retirement in 2010 and now works for the department in logistics as a storekeeper. She said she handles supplies, such as uniforms and equipment.
Another CFD storekeeper, a white man, earns the same pay as Lockhart – just under $38,200. She said she should earn more because she has been working in that position for seven years, while he started in 2016.
Lockhart said the department has another employee who does the same work as a storekeeper. But she said that employee, a white woman, was allowed to keep an old job title as office manager, which allowed her to keep a higher salary of $42,000, Lockhart said.
Chief Rob Cannon, who is the department's spokesperson, said there is no salary discrepancy. He said the pay for the storekeeper position is not based on seniority.
He said that Lockhart will not be disciplined for speaking to council.
"She's not going to be fired for exercising her First Amendment right," he said.
Lockhart's complaint came only weeks after a jury awarded a former female fire investigator $1.5 million in a whistleblower lawsuit.
The jury said Crystal Eschert was fired because she complained about the quality and safety of renovations being done on a new office building for investigators on North Graham Street. The city said Eschert was fired for an offensive Facebook post, but the jury rejected that defense.