EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify a point about Councilmember Mario Benavente. Benavente was not yet serving on the City Council in early 2022 when he is accused of yelling at former Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins and telling her he was going to get her removed from her position.
Former Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins says she suffered a hostile work environment at the city and she plans to sue if the city fails to reach a settlement with her, her lawyer wrote in a letter in August.
The Hawkins letter, first reported by WRAL, alleges Hawkins was treated poorly because she is a Black Hispanic woman. It outlines incidents in which Hawkins asserts she was berated, threatened and treated in both a racist and sexist manner.
The letter was written by lawyer James Hairston Jr. of the Hairston Lane firm in Raleigh.
The conditions that Hawkins endured violated federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commision regulations, Hairston wrote. He offered to negotiate with the city on Hawkins’ behalf “in the event the City is desirous of an amicable negotiation of her grievances” without the filing of a lawsuit.
City officials, citing the privacy requirements of state personnel laws, declined to comment on the letter.
Hawkins was the Fayetteville police chief from August 2017 to January 2023.
Yelling, racial epithets, alleged affair
Among the allegations in the letter:
Defamatory blog, and the first of two investigations
The letter says an anonymous blogger began publishing lies about the police chief and the mayor.
It says two investigations were conducted to look into the blog and its allegations.
The first investigation was conducted by the city’s Human Resource Development Director Jerry Clipp at the behest of some members of the City Council, the letter says, and he interviewed Hawkins for it.
“During the interview, Clipp repeatedly asked the Chief sexist and racist questions which had nothing to do with the claims made in the blog,” the letter says. “The Chief continuously stopped the Director and told him the questions he was asking were sexist, racist, and offensive. The interview was so offensive that the Chief was emotionally impacted by the same.”
Clipp’s investigation found that there was “no policy or criminal violation,” the letter says, but Clipp also failed to interview Mayor Colvin.
Following Clipp’s report, the letter says, Colvin and Dawkins, who was mayor pro-tem, “demanded further investigation take place by an outside investigation contractor.”
The letter says the mayor’s order for another investigation without volunteering a statement or being interviewed for the first investigation “directed additional harassment towards the Chief” and “is just another example of the discriminatory environment, and evidence of how the Chief was treated as a Black/Hispanic female.”
The next investigation into the blog
The consultants hired by the city manager for the second investigation also looked into the blog, the letter says.
“They confirmed that the blog was filled with lies,” the letter says. “The consultants also noted that when they reviewed the interview that HR had with the Chief, they noted major issues on how the HR Director needed training on EEOC, interview techniques and active listening skills.”
EEOC is short for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision.
Since Hawkins retired from the Fayetteville Police Department in January, “the hostility and discrimination has continued,” the letter says.
“The Chief has reason to believe that a member of the council contacted a prospective employer to recommend that she not be hired, based on some of the previously discussed matters,” it says.
City officials say they cannot talk about the Hawkins letter
Colvin and Councilmembers Dawkins and Benavente said on Thursday they cannot publicly discuss Hawkins’ allegations.
City spokesman Loren Bymer said North Carolina’s personnel privacy law restricts city officials from commenting.
“While the City would like to provide a response, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-168 mandates that personnel files of employees, former employees, or applicants for employment maintained by the City may not be disclosed unless otherwise permitted under this law. As such, the City is prohibited from further commenting on the matter at this time,” he said.
Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and firstname.lastname@example.org.