Haeggquist & Eck’s Alreen Haeggquist and Jenna Rangel have filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the Orange County Fire Authority on behalf of Desiree Horton, OCFA’s first female helicopter fire pilot.
Horton, a career pilot with 30 years of flying experience and 16 years of aerial firefighting experience, joined OCFA in 2019 as the agency’s first permanently employed female fire pilot. Prior to joining OCFA, she was a fire pilot with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), where she also was that agency’s first female fire pilot.
In the lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court, the HAE team alleges that despite her experience (more than any of her male colleagues at OCFA) and despite glowing reviews from former employers and colleagues, OCFA failed Desiree after her one-year probationary period – and without the required one-year evaluation flight. The suit alleges that during Desiree’s time at the OCFA, she was unfairly and discriminatorily scrutinized by the male pilots, crew chiefs, and helicopter technicians, held to unfair and higher standards than her male counterparts, deprived of training opportunities offered to the male fire pilots, unfairly evaluated without proper training and often with little or no advance notice, lied to about the conditions of her passing probation, and forced to work in a hostile environment in which she was ignored, undermined, disrespected, disparaged, and made to feel as though she was incompetent.
Horton wants her job back — and she wants transparency and accountability from OCFA so women and underrepresented groups are treated fairly in recruitment, hiring, and training.
The HAE legal team was joined by representatives from California National Organization For Women, Democratic Party of Orange County, Stentorians of Los Angeles City, Orange County Veterans Democratic Club and Lavender Democrats at a virtual press conference June 9 announcing the case. Watch the news conference here.
Check out reporter Andrew Gumbel’s piece on the issues facing the fire industry (and highlighting Desiree Horton’s case) here.