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Fired Windsor fire captain’s lawsuit settled

Thursday, February 16th, 2012 | Posted by | no responses

By RANDI ROSSMANN / The Press Democrat

A Windsor fire captain fired in 2007 after an alcohol-fueled fight that included allegations that he groped a colleague’s wife, has had his termination set aside, personnel files sanitized and will receive $500,000 for back pay, emotional distress and attorney’s fees.

Troy Collier, 45, claimed in a lawsuit that he was fired unfairly and improperly. He sought millions of dollars in damages from the Windsor Fire Protection District.

An attempt by the district to get the suit thrown out of federal court failed and the dispute was headed for trial when the two sides reached a settlement in December.

Collier’s attorney, Michael S. Biggs of Tiburon, said the settlement achieved his client’s goal of having the records of the incident expunged. “The thing he wanted was to clear his name,” Biggs said.

The agreement allows the district and fire captain to go their separate ways, bringing closure to the long-running controversy, said Bill Arnone, the attorney representing the fire district.

“I’ve very glad that cloud is no longer there,” he said.

Collier, who declined to comment Wednesday, had said his termination hearings didn’t follow proper procedures, a position upheld by the court in pretrial rulings.

“There’s no question the court found procedural irregularities — that led to the settlement,” said Arnone.

Biggs, however, said the court had made a signficant point, noting that a 2010 ruling supported Collier’s contention that his due process rights were violated in 2007 and 2008 during his termination hearings.

Windsor Fire District’s board of directors approved the settlement in January.

Under the agreement, Collier will not regain his old job and agreed not to apply for a Windsor firefighting job. The district is to eliminate the record of his firing and purge from his file all references to the Feb. 24, 2007 incident.

Collier was allowed to resign as a captain and will get a letter of recommendation and a commemorative plaque and badge noting his service for the fire district since 1983.

The financial settlement gives Collier $100,000 for emotional distress, $163,000 in back pay and $237,000 for his attorney, said Arnone.

The cost of the settlement and defense costs are covered by the district’s insurance carrier, Arnone said.

Collier also will get $2,500 “for the express purpose of cleansing the Internet of the incident dated February 24, 2007.”

That night, more than a dozen off-duty firefighters, wives and girlfriends crammed into a limo to go to an awards banquet. Among them were Collier, Capt. Ron Busch and their wives, part of a group described as “drunk revelers,” according to police and fire investigative reports that have become part of the suit.

Donna Busch told investigators that Collier fondled her while riding in the limo. She signaled to her husband for help and words between the two captains were exchanged, escalating to punches, and the fight spilled outside of the stopped limo.

Collier said he put his arm around the woman but denied touching the woman inappropriately. He also denied having more of an aggressive role in the fight than Busch.

Both men were placed on administrative leave with pay. Collier was fired for “inappropriate physical contact” with the woman and for escalating the conflict outside the limousine. Busch returned to work.

Collier fought the firing, and an arbitrator in 2007 ruled in his favor, recommending the district reinstate him with back pay. Collier had been making about $100,000 annually with overtime, according to court documents.

The district didn’t bring him back and in 2008 he filed the lawsuit. Among the defendants initially was Collier’s stepfather, Ron Collier, who at the time was the district’s fire chief.

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James Lanaras is our Windsor correspondent.
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