San Diego Captain Sues For Sexual Harassment

A captain with the San Diego Fire Department has filed a sexual harassment and discrimination suit that names the city, the San Diego Fire Department, two deputy chiefs and a fellow captain.

Sara Alfaro filed the 11-count, 45-page suit on April 20, 2018 in San Diego County Superior Court. Besides the city and the fire department, the complaint names Deputy Chief Gina La Mantia, Deputy Chief Kelley Zombro, and Captain Jamie Nichols

As explained in the complaint:

  • Included in the onslaught of sexually objectifying behaviors Alfaro has experienced, male SDFD employees have groped her, unzipped her shirt, placed their exposed genitalia on her possessions, photo shopped a picture of a penis onto a picture of her and distributed this at work, and sent her multiple sexually suggestive text messages.
  • Alfaro never reciprocated this unwelcome sexual attention, and, instead, focused on her professional development.
  • Nonetheless, she has faced a constant struggle for equal treatment in promotions, assignments, pay and other terms and conditions of employment.
  • Despite proving herself as Captain of one of the Department’s ten busiest Fire Houses, Alfaro has been locked out of certain promotions and assignments that go, without exception, to men, many of whom lack Alfaro’s qualifications.
  • Many of these positions involve stereotypically male subjects, such as trucks and engines.
  • Alfaro is also held to a higher standard and expected to perform additional work without pay or recognition.
  • The SDFD and the City of San Diego turned a blind eye to this overt harassment and discrimination for close to 17 years.
  • In February, 2017, Alfaro mentioned this harassment and discrimination to a Fire Chief, who filed an EEO complaint, precipitating two workplace investigations.
  • Instead of taking immediate steps to protect Alfaro, SDFD and the City’s HR Department disclosed the fact of her complaints and its investigation to the men of the department, over Alfaro’s repeated warnings that this would cause retribution by her male colleagues.
  • Foreseeably, this resulted in severe retaliation. The sexual harassment intensified and Alfaro was denied countless promotions and assignments, without legitimate explanation.
  • The SDFD is the epitome of an old boys’ club. Men dominate the Department’s ranks and culture. Only five of the approximately 120-130 operational Fire Captains are women. Women
  • hold only one of approximately 25 Battalion Chief positions and one of approximately 12 Deputy Chiefs positions. The few female employees of the SDFD work disproportionately in administrative positions and in less busy stations.

The complaint alleges sexual harassment under state and federal law, gender discrimination under state and federal law, retaliation under state and federal law, equal pay violations, whistleblower retaliation, and intentional infliction of severe emotional distress.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Alfaro v San Diego_04-20-18_Complaint_1525390218406

Here is a link to video news coverage.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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