San Francisco Settles Sexual Harassment Suit for $575,000

The City of San Francisco has agreed to settle a sexual harassment suit brought by a female firefighter who accused colleagues of spreading feces in her bathroom and urinating in her bed.

Suzanne Montes filed suit last year claiming she was repeatedly harassed while assigned to Station 2 in Chinatown. Her claims resulted in the transfer of ten firefighters, including four battalion chiefs. Eight of those firefighters have filed suit in state court alleging retaliation and reverse discrimination.

Montes alleged that the male firefighters objected to her being assigned to the ladder company at the station, Truck 2. According to the complaint:

  • Prior to starting her assignment at Station 2, Ms. Montes was approached by a male firefighter, Jesse Snyder, in an overly aggressive manner. He lectured her stating, “Why would you put in for Station 2? Do you know how difficult your time is going to be?”
  • On January 16, 2016, Ms. Montes began her first shift at Station 2. On her first shift the other firefighters at Station 2 blatantly ignored her, and no one spoke to her. None of the officers on duty during this shift took any action to prevent this treatment of Ms. Montes.
  • For the first two months that Ms. Montes worked at Station 2 she continued to be ostracized by her male co-workers. Although one firefighter is assigned to cook meals, preparing the meals is always a communal effort with other firefighters working with the person assigned meal duty.
  • However, when Ms. Montes was assigned meal duty her co-workers took the unprecedented step of refusing to help her cook and leaving her to prepare meals by herself. Her male co-workers were never left to prepare meals by themselves. No officer on duty during these incidents took any action to end this unfair treatment.
  • In January and February 2016, Ms. Montes constantly heard other firefighters in Station 2 openly and enthusiastically refer to her as a “bitch” in conversations with other male firefighters. Despite the open nature of these comments, no officer at Station 2 took any action to discipline those making the comments or to prevent their reoccurrence.
  • During January and February 2016, Ms. Montes’ bed was repeatedly and intentionally disheveled, the covers and sheets rearranged, during each shift she worked. No other firefighter’s bed at Station 2 was disturbed in the same fashion.
  • On January 20, 2016, Ms. Montes’ skin lotion was emptied over the counter of the woman’s bathroom, and all the toilet paper was deliberately removed from the stalls and from the cabinets where the extra rolls were normally stored.
  • On January 23, 2016, Ms. Montes overheard an unidentified firefighter complaining about the fact that Ms. Montes had painted her helmet, as is tradition for firefighters assigned to trucks. The unidentified firefighter stated, “The bitch already painted her helmet.”
  • On February 2, 2016, Ms. Montes’ turnout boots were taken from her locker and hidden in the corner of the firehouse, leaving her without her proper equipment. The turnout boots of other male members of Station 2 were not hidden.
  • On February 5, 2016, feces was spread on the toilet and floor of the women’s bathroom. The probationary firefighter assigned to clean the bathroom that day was instructed not to clean up the mess. No officer at Station 2 took any action regarding this incident.
  • Also on February 5, 2016, an unknown firefighter at Station 2 urinated in Ms. Montes’ bed. Ms. Montes did not discover this fact until she lay down in her bed to sleep and realized that someone had urinated in her bed and on her pillow. No other beds in Station 2 were treated in such a manner in the entire time Ms. Montes was at Station 2.
  • On February 6, 2016, Ms. Montes placed her name on the sign-up board to request to trade shifts with another firefighter. Ms. Montes’ name was erased from the board.
  • On February 12, 2016, Ms. Montes reported the increasing harassment to her commanding officer. The complaint was immediately forwarded up the chain of command to the office of the Chief of the Department, Joanne Hayes-White.
  • After Ms. Montes made her complaint she began to suffer retaliation.

The male firefighters countered Monte’s allegations with claims that she was having an inappropriate relationship with a chief officer assigned to Station 2, and was receiving preferential treatment. The Board of Supervisors voted today to approve the $575,000 payment to Montes. More on the story.

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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