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Orange County Fire Authority agrees to $580,000 settlement in lawsuit alleging gender discrimination

A red-and-white helicopter landing in front of a hillside as four workers in yellow watch from beside two red vehicles
Orange County Fire Authority workers join a search and rescue mission near the Cleveland National Forest in 2021. The force is largely male.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)
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A former Orange County Fire Authority spokeswoman who accused the agency of rampant male chauvinism and systematic gender-based harassment has settled her lawsuit for $580,000.

Colleen Windsor, a former TV news anchor in San Diego, alleged she was systematically harassed, undermined and pranked by workers at the Irvine-based fire agency because she was a woman in a high-ranking executive position.

Windsor, who served as the agency’s communications director from January 2019 to August 2021, sued the OCFA in October 2021, alleging that the agency had a “well-documented history of chauvinism and misogyny,” including previous lawsuits alleging gender discrimination.

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The settlement was reached in in July 2023, but its details were first reported Friday by the Times of San Diego.

According to the lawsuit, workers “sought to belittle and marginalize” Windsor in what she claimed was “an obvious attempt to coerce her to quit her job.”

Jurupa Unified School District agreed to pay $360,000 to a teacher who was fired after she said her Christian beliefs prevented her from adhering to policies on gender.

May 15, 2024

Employees sent unprofessional and “incendiary” emails, including memes of Windsor that undermined her role, and were instructed to ignore her emails to them, court documents alleged. Firefighters made comments about her physical appearance and falsely accused her of racism, Windsor claimed.

She was also accused of swerving her car toward employees in the OCFA headquarters parking lot on April 22, 2022, prompting a police report to be filed. Windsor said in court documents that no such incident had occurred.

In another incident cited in the lawsuit, Windsor said her husband had given her a helmet shield, prompting OCFA employees to prank call her and refer to her as “Chief Windsor.”

Her attorney, Christopher Salda?a, said he could not comment on much of the lawsuit or settlement, citing a mutual non-disparagement clause included in the agreement.

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Windsor “is happy to have the case behind her and move on,” Salda?a said.

A spokesperson for the Orange County Fire Authority declined to comment on the case, saying the agency does not comment on personnel matters.

A jury sided with a former State Parks employee who said the agency treated him unfairly in part due to his Mexican heritage, awarding him $2.3 million.

April 22, 2024

On another occasion during the pandemic in March 2020, Windsor was not permitted into OCFA headquarters because her temperature was higher than normal. Believing it was because of her long drive to work and drinking coffee, Windsor returned a short time later and was permitted in when her temperature was normal.

“Nevertheless, several firefighters employed by OCFA started a rumor that Windsor may be ill and she was putting the lives of other OCFA employees in danger,” the lawsuit alleged.

According to court filings, Windsor tried to inform a deputy chief about the incidents, but she was told OCFA had no mechanism for an executive-level employee to file a complaint alleging gender bias.

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