A hefty check made out to a former Denver fire captain and the attorneys defending her was signed Monday evening by the Denver City Council.
The City of Denver agreed to pay $975,000 of taxpayers’ money to settle a lawsuit Colley Fisher filed in 2016 after she was fired from the fire department in 2015, allegedly in retaliation for filing two sexual discrimination complaints against her male colleagues.
A federal jury in January ruled in favor of Fisher, following a week of testimony and a verdict deliberation that took nearly two days. They agreed to award her $146,000 in emotional stress damages — a decision the city appealed.
The federal judge had initially awarded Fisher $1.2 million, but Fisher and her counsel settled for the nearly $1 million award contingent on the city dropping its appeal.
City Council members determined that Fisher would receive roughly $392,000, and her attorneys of Benezra & Culver, P.C., would be awarded about $583,000.
The city’s compensation covers “wages and compensatory damages, in payment and satisfaction of all claims and appeals filed by the parties,” according to the resolution.
Fisher served in the Denver Fire Department (DFD) for 23 years, climbing her way up to the rank of captain.
“For decades, DFD has made its ranks unwelcome to women,” Fisher said in her lawsuit. “DFD is, and always has been, an extremely male-oriented employer with an extremely male-dominated culture.”
The former fire captain’s complaint named six DFD employees, none of whom were disciplined internally, Denverite reported Monday.
Becoming a major city's public safety director after being another major city's police chief is pretty much like leaping from the frying pan into the fire. Troy Riggs has served in both capacities.
Fisher’s 2016 lawsuit came in the wake of another settlement earlier that year between the city of Denver and a former firefighter, Camilla VonBurkhardt, after she was repeatedly sexually harassed at work. VonBurkhardt was awarded $75,000 in damages.
These cases aren’t the only ones to arise from Denver’s Department of Public Safety. Discrimination complaints from women have reared their heads “from every corner of the Safety Department, which oversees sheriff’s, police and fire services in the city,” the Colorado Independent reported in May.
The most recent payout for a discrimination case was a $1.6 million settlement for several sheriff deputies who claimed they had no protection from the city against sexual harassment.
Troy Riggs, who was appointed by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, has led the city’s Department of Public Safety since 2018. In a recent interview with Colorado Politics, Riggs discussed some of the unique challenges faced by women in Denver law enforcement.
“There is no doubt that agencies like police, fire and sheriff's departments have traditionally been male dominated,” Riggs said, “but as with other traditionally male industries, we are starting to see a shift as more young women choose public safety careers.”
Riggs said all departments under the DPS umbrella are “working to recruit and retain more women.”
“For our departments to be successful,” he said, “each needs diversity of thought, culture, and gender to provide safety for our city.”