Monterey Park Settles Discrimination Lawsuit With Former Fire Chief

By City News Service

The city of Monterey Park and its ex-fire chief have settled the woman’s lawsuit alleging she suffered disparate treatment, was harassed and eventually forced out because she is gay.

Cathleen Orchard’s lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in April 2011, alleged discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, harassment, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

She also claimed the stress from the alleged mistreatment forced her to leave her job. Her attorneys filed court papers Dec. 16 stating the case was resolved, but no terms were divulged.

Defense attorneys denied any wrongdoing by city officials. They stated in their court papers that Orchard was never disciplined, denied a promotion, transferred to a less desirable job or discriminated against. They also denied she was forced to quit her job.

The city’s attorneys additionally maintained that most of Orchard’s claims were barred because they were filed too late.

Orchard was hired by the city as a training officer in May 1999 and was appointed chief in June 2005. She was one of only about 65 female chiefs nationwide and one of about five in the state, according to her complaint.

Orchard also stated in a sworn declaration that from the time she was hired there were no females in the department until 2007, when Jill Herbert was given a firefighter job.

“Throughout my career in the fire service, I have observed first-hand that females are often treated with hostility,” she stated. “I have observed that women in the fire service are treated differently than men.”

Orchard stated she has been married to her longtime partner since July 2008.

The alleged mistreatment began before Orchard was named chief when she was not given the same protective gear as male firefighters, according to her court papers. Upon being named chief, city council members were “visibly agitated when (Orchard’s) partner was included in the traditional portion of the presentation devoted to spouses,” she claimed.

Orchard also contended she was subjected to excessive scrutiny and criticism by city officials, including a berating by one council member concerning her choice of a location for the construction of a new fire station.

She said the site favored by the council violated a city ordinance precluding the building of such facilities in city parks, and was “dangerously located close to a school.”

She also maintained she was further shunned by three council members after she recommended that two paramedics be fired for falsifying a report concerning their treatment of an injured man.

“When it became clear that (Orchard) would not turn a blind eye to the misconduct of the two paramedics, various council members and Monterey Park personnel engaged in adverse employment actions that can only be described as a systematic attempt to discredit (her) or lay the foundation for her ultimate termination,” her suit alleged.

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January 2, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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