San Francisco (CA) Fire Chief Sues City Over Discrimination, Retaliation

Firefighter helmet

Mallory Moench

San Francisco Chronicle


May 27—San Francisco Assistant Fire Chief Nicol Juratovac filed a civil lawsuit against the city this week alleging discrimination, harassment and whistleblower retaliation. Her previous internal complaint to the city’s human resources department was handled by an ex-manager who admitted to forging a settlement with a different employee.

Juratovac, a 23-year veteran of the fire department, is the first female, Asian-American and LGBTQ assistant chief.

Her complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court Monday, alleges “a culture of corruption, sexism, homophobia and sexism prevalent” within the fire department, creating a “good old boys” mentality. The lawsuit said Juratovac sought to change the culture by blowing the whistle on exam cheating, racism, safety violations and a raucous drinking party at a fire station attended by on-and off-duty firefighters.

The suit alleges she’s been denied promotions and overtime in favor of less qualified male, white or heterosexual coworkers. It alleges that after whistleblowing, she’s been subject to seven disciplinary actions since 2014 following an “umblemished” career. Six were dismissed, and one — for mistreating a fire fighter in training during a drill — resulted in harsher discipline than more serious offenses by other employees, the suit said. That included an instance where a firefighter failed to report a hit-and-run, her attorney Therese Cannata said.

“Assistant Chief Juratovac has suffered and continues to suffer humiliation, emotional distress, and mental pain and anguish,” the complaint read.

John Coté, spokesman for the City Attorney, said the city and the Fire Department “take equal employment issues seriously.”

“We are committed to fostering a welcoming, inclusive workplace free of discrimination or harassment based on race, gender, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic. We are also committed to a workplace free of retaliation for any protected activity,” Coté said. “Assistant Chief Juratovac chose to take this matter to court, and that is where we will address it.”

Before suing, Juratovac filed multiple complaints with the San Francisco Ethics Commission and a complaint with the city’s human resources department in October 2019. Her lawsuit alleges she was strung along by human resources manager Rebecca Sherman, who last year resigned after admitting to forging a settlement over a racial discrimination complaint by a Black Municipal Transportation Agency employee.

Human resources department spokesman Mawuli Tugbenyoh said Sherman’s actions don’t reflect the department’s “commitment to fairly, equitably, and carefully investigate complaints of harassment and discrimination from any City employee.”

He said that since the scandal, the department audited all of Sherman’s cases and commissioned an independent audit on the employee complaint process that should be completed within the next month.

Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter:@mallorymoench


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