On Monday, October 21, Denver City Council approved a $975,000 settlement between the city and Colley Fisher, a former captain in the Denver Fire Department, who was fired in 2015. That figure includes attorney's fees.
Fisher, who started working for the department in 1992, filed her legal complaint in 2016. She alleged that she had been discriminated against based on her gender while serving in the department and that she had been retaliated against by her supervisors when she filed complaints about the alleged discrimination. In particular, Fisher alleged that she was disciplined heavily for rule violations that either never occurred or were exaggerated by supervisors, and that male colleagues that had violated more serious rules walked away with less punishment.
Fisher also said in the complaint that in retaliation for her gender-discrimination complaints, her supervisors stripped her of her duties as commanding officer at the Broncos stadium, costing her $17,000 in yearly overtime wages.
In January of this year, a jury delivered a verdict in favor of Fisher, saying it found enough evidence to conclude that the department had retaliated against Fisher for her discrimination complaints. The court ordered that the city was on the hook for over $1.2 million. The Denver City Attorney's Office then appealed the court's decision, and the two sides agreed to settle for $975,000 rather than continue litigation.
"We think this is going to send a message to the city and fire department that the fire department has a problem with the way it treats its female employees," says John Culver, Fisher's lawyer. "It’s frustrating that it took four years to get the city to finally do the right thing. This is a case that could’ve been settled four years ago for a fraction of what it settled for last night."
The city attorney's office told Westword that it could not elaborate on the case until city council voted on approving the settlement. However, once it was approved, the office did not respond to a request for comment.
Complaints alleged against various agencies in Denver's Department of Public Safety have regularly cost the city millions of dollars.
In 2014, the city settled with the family of Marvin Booker, who died while in the custody of the sheriff's department at a Denver jail in 2010, for approximately $6 million. More recently, the city paid $1.55 million to fifteen former sheriff's deputies who alleged a hostile environment for women who work at the Denver County Jail.
And more payouts to settle litigation could be coming. Diana Sanchez, who gave birth unassisted while in a city jail, is suing the city in a case that's drawn national attention. But that case isn't likely to be resolved for months, if not years.