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Helicopter pilot Desiree Horton had more aerial firefighting experience than any of her colleagues at the Orange County Fire Authority when she arrived from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection two years ago to become the local agency’s first female pilot.

But that did not stop the OCFA from firing her before her one-year probationary period had ended and labeling her untrainable despite more than 30 years as a pilot, 16 of those battling fires for state and federal agencies.

Horton is now suing the OCFA for sexual discrimination and seeking to end what she and her attorneys call a “boys club mentality.” Horton said she knows there is a “real risk she will be blacklisted” from the profession she loves, but she must fight for those who will follow in her footsteps.

“I cared about protecting life and land across the state. It was my dream job. I am an Orange County resident,” Horton said Wednesday at a news conference explaining her decision to litigate. “It is clear to me that the OCFA set me up to fail, and I was never given the opportunity to succeed.

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