The state Department of Agriculture says it never issued an ultimatum.
Spokesman Brian Long says they never threatened the job of former Standards Lab head L.F. Eason III over his refusal to lower the flag to honor former Sen. Jesse Helms. Instead, he said that it was Eason's idea to retire.
"It's true he could have faced some disciplinary action, but what that would have been I guess we’ll never know," Long said.
In an interview, Eason said he was given the ultimatum over the phone.
"I was not given a choice," he said. "I was told if I lowered the flags completely or raised them up, I would be fired."
An e-mail from Eason's superior, Steve Benjamin, on Monday includes mention of firing but does not specifically threaten it:
"To be brief, the choices were lower the flags (which was done) or face disciplinanry (sic) action (possibly being fired as this was an order from the Governor and Commissioner). You asked if retirement was an option since you would rather do that than work for a department honoring Helms by lowering the flags. You weren't forced to retire, but (in my mind) you choose (sic) this as the most palatable option given your strong personal feelings on this."
Eason said he is not seeking his job back, and the Agriculture spokesman said they are not looking to allow him to return either.
"At this point, we are honoring his decision to retire," Long said.