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Female Helicopter Pilot Sues Orange County Fire Authority Over Gender Discrimination Claims

— June 11, 2021

A female fire pilot is suing the Orange County Fire Authority for gender discrimination.

Women have come a long way in the workplace, but discrimination is still happening at an unacceptable level. Fortunately, some women are pushing back. For example, a lawsuit was recently filed against the Orange County Fire Authority by its first female helicopter fire pilot over claims of gender discrimination. The suit was filed by Orange County resident, Desiree Horton. According to her, even though she was the first woman to hold the position, she claims she was “set up to fail” and added, “I want my job back. Let me fly.”

Houston Fire Department fire truck; image by ArtisticOperations, via
Houston Fire Department fire truck; image by ArtisticOperations, via

Horton was the first female fire helicopter pilot employed by a government agency in California. She has 31 years of experience and 9,000 flight hours. Earlier in her career, she piloted AIR7 HD for Eyewitness News. 

Regardless of that experience, though, OCFA “fired her for what they called substandard performance.” She said, “I was set up to fail, and I was never given the opportunity to succeed…It was clear to me that women weren’t wanted at OCFA.” As a result, she is suing for gender discrimination. 

According to the suit, in 2019, OCFA air operations “unfairly evaluated her without proper training that her male colleagues received, and wrongly fired her before the end of her one-year probation period.” When commenting on the matter, Alreen Haeggquist said:

 “Not only did she leave Cal Fire to come work for the OCFA, who didn’t give her a chance to succeed, it was now claiming she wasn’t able to adequately perform a job she had been doing for 30 years.”

Horton notes in her suit that “she has more flight experience than any of the male fire pilots at the OCFA.” The suit further states she was “made to feel as though she was incompetent all because Ms. Horton was a woman in a place believed to be a man’s world.” Haeggquist added, “fires don’t discriminate, neither should the OCFA.”

 Capt. Lauren Andrade, another female employee with the OCFA, said she’s seen discrimination firsthand in the agency. She added:

 “Seventeen of our fire stations currently don’t have women’s restrooms or shower facilities to accommodate a dual-gender workforce for women to actually shower while they’re on duty.” 

 Going forward, Horton would like to see “OCFA become more accepting of all job candidates.” She added:

“I want the OCFA I go back to, to be a changed department, one in which women and underrepresented groups are given the fair shake we deserve.”


Helicopter pilot files gender discrimination lawsuit against Orange County Fire Authority

Helicopter pilot fired by Orange County Fire Authority files gender discrimination lawsuit

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