San Francisco assistant chief says she faced retaliation for taking on 'good old boys' club

San Francisco Assistant Chief Nicol Juratovac said she is considering suing after "a campaign of harassment and discrimination"

Michael Williams
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco Fire Department assistant chief is considering suing the city's fire and human resources departments, claiming she was discriminated against and harassed after blowing the whistle on instances of cheating, racism and safety violations within the department.

Lawyers for Assistant Chief Nicol Juratovac, a 23-year veteran of San Francisco's fire department, claimed the department "embarked on a campaign of harassment and discrimination to punish her for taking on the 'good old boys' club within SFFD."

San Francisco Deputy Fire Chief Nicol Juratovac said she is considering suing the department after
San Francisco Deputy Fire Chief Nicol Juratovac said she is considering suing the department after "a campaign of harassment and discrimination to punish her for taking on the 'good old boys' club within SFFD," according to her lawyers.

The lawyers also allege that the department subjected Juratovac to seven trumped up disciplinary charges in retaliation for her whistle-blowing.

Six of the disciplinary charges were later dismissed, Juratovac's lawyers said. In the one charge that led to discipline, Juratovac's lawyers said she was punished more harshly than other fire department leaders who faced more serious allegations. Her lawyers also claim Juratovac was harassed with disciplinary investigations after serving as a witness and participating in racial discrimination suits brought against the city on behalf of Black and other minority firefighters.

Reached by email Thursday, a spokesperson for the fire department said both the city and the department take equal employment issues seriously and are committed to fostering an inclusive workplace free of discrimination.

"We are also committed to a workplace free of retaliation for any protected activity," fire department spokesman Lt. Jonathan Baxter said. "As this involves a personnel matter, we are unable to comment on it at this time."

Therese Cannata, a lawyer for Juratovac, said the primary purpose of the complaint is to "put a stop to the harassment and the retaliation." The city has 45 days after the filing of the complaint to respond. If the city denies the claim, Juratovac and her attorneys will have the opportunity to sue.

Juratovac "believes she needs to be able to speak up in her own defense and those who have been the subject of discrimination and retaliation within the fire department," Cannata said. "She does not want to go silent and watch these things happen."

Cannata said money is not the primary purpose of the complaint, but believes Juratovac is entitled to compensation, and to promotion and advancement opportunities which she claims Juratovac was denied.

According to the complaint, Juratovac, who has been an assistant chief since 2017 — the first openly LGBTQ Asian American woman to rise to that rank — "blew the whistle on numerous, serious instances of cheating on promotion exams, racism, safety violations and other misconduct."

In one 2017 incident, Juratovac claims she reported rumors about a going-away party at a fire station, during which on- and off-duty firefighters were drinking, and where a probationary firefighter was allegedly sexually harassed by another firefighter. Juratovac reported the incident to another assistant chief who was on duty the day of the party, before formally reporting the incident to the department and requesting an investigation.

"Juratovac's report enraged certain members of the SFFD, who considered her report to be an act of disloyalty," the claim said. "Juratovac is informed that many of those called out for failing to report this incident continue to instigate the ongoing retaliation and harassment against her."


(c)2021 the San Francisco Chronicle

Editor's Note: Assistant Chief Nicol Juratovac is a member of the FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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