Denver Tees Up Nearly $1 Million Settlement For Fired Firefighter Who Claimed Sex Discrimination

The city of Denver will pay nearly $1 million to settle a case brought by a former high-ranking firefighter who claimed she was fired in retaliation for filing two sex discrimination claims.

On Monday night, the Denver City Council unanimously approved a $975,000 settlement with Colley Fisher, a captain terminated by the Denver Fire Department in 2015.

It’s the latest payout stemming from a harassment claim by women in Denver’s safety departments. And for Fisher, the resolution has been a long time coming.

A federal jury believed her claim of retaliation after a seven-day trial in January, awarding $146,000 in damages for emotional distress. Fisher said she was the victim of bullying and harassment at DFD, according to a Denver7 report, and described its culture as a “boys club.” She said she also suffered from chronic pain after sustaining an injury during an unauthorized training exercise.

But the verdict didn’t end the matter.

While city attorneys appealed — and continued to dispute Fisher’s claims — U.S. District Court Judge Richard P. Matsch signed off in April on a $1.2 million final judgment, according to court documents. That order established how much more the city owed Fisher for lost pay, court costs, interest and, most significantly, the attorneys fees that piled up when her case went to trial.

In exchange for the acceptance by Fisher and her attorneys of the reduced settlement, the city is dropping its appeal.

The city is set to pay Fisher $391,835 to cover her lost wages and damages. Her lawyers at Benezra & Culver will receive $583,165.

Fisher worked at DFD for more than two decades and was one of the department’s first female firefighters, according to the firm. She was the second-highest-ranked woman in DFD when she was fired, it says.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about social justice and standing up to corrupt leadership,” Fisher said about the case in January, Denver7 reported.

Her attorney, John Culver, told The Denver Post that they pressed the case because they saw the sexism issues they alleged as systemic in DFD, where men still dominate the ranks of firefighters, and wanted to send a message to city officials. He said the city, which declined to make any settlement offers until after Colley won at trial and the court set the other costs, has resisted hearing it.

“Not one cent was put on the table,” Culver said. “Obviously the whole case could have settled for less four years ago — for much less than $975,000.”

Denver’s safety departments have faced other gender-related claims in recent years. One case resulted in a nearly $1.6 million settlement with a group of female jail deputies who claimed the sheriff’s department failed to take steps to stem “severe and unwelcome sexual harassment” of the deputies by male inmates.

In February, Denver police Cmdr. Magen Dodge alleged in a state civil rights complaint that she was effectively demoted after accusing former Chief Robert White of making sexist and derogatory remarks. White, who speculated that some of his jokes were misconstrued, was cleared of wrongdoing by a third-party investigation, but Dodge’s complaint has spurred a new probe by the Colorado Civil Rights Division.


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