SF Fire Department Paramedic Alleges Gender, Pregnancy and Lactation Discrimination

A paramedic captain with the San Francisco Fire Department has filed an 18-count complaint in federal court alleging an assortment of gender, pregnancy, and lactation-based claims. Sarah Perata filed suit last week in US District Court for the Northern District of California

The allegations in the 67-page, 257 numbered paragraph complaint are simply too much to even begin to cover fairly in a blog post. It took me nearly 45 minutes just to read through the complaint. While a few isolated paragraphs do not do justice to the factual scope of what Perata is claiming, let’s consider three of the more general allegations:

  • This is a case involving egregious discrimination and retaliation against a dedicated, hardworking employee of the City and County of San Francisco’s Fire Department. Plaintiff Sarah Perata has devoted her entire adult life to saving human lives as an EMT and Paramedic, performing in such a stellar and incredible manner that, despite Defendant’s attempts to thwart her progress, she was eventually promoted to Captain, and became an instructor for new paramedics within the Fire Department ‘s Division of Training.
  • When Plaintiff became pregnant in 2019 and gave birth to her daughter, she was intentionally deprived of freedom from discrimination, a serious affront to her personal liberty, and subjected to retaliation and harassment in the various forms of adverse employment actions described herein. When Plaintiff was contacted by the United States Department of Labor to discuss Defendant’s continuing violations of law regarding female employees, and truthfully reported (at the federal agency’s demand) the unbelievable conditions Defendant forced its pregnant and breastfeeding female employees to endure, Defendant undertook an extreme campaign of harassment and retaliation against Plaintiff, in an effort to destroy her life. Defendant’s systematic attack on Plaintiff has resulted in serious and unjustified discipline, and a wrongful refusal to promote Plaintiff. Defendant’s acts are unconscionable. To make matters worse, this is not even the first time Defendant has discriminated against its brave and loyal female employees. Defendant must be held accountable.
  • The San Francisco Fire Department has a long, tortured history of discrimination against female employees and has been the subject of numerous lawsuits for the despicable culture of discrimination perpetuated by its mostly white male employees. The first women did not enter the Fire Department until 1987, when in United States v. City and County of San Francisco, 656 F. Supp. 276 (N.D. Cal. 1987), United States District Court Judge Marilyn Patel entered a consent decree requiring the Fire Department to hire 10% women. The Fire Department fought the decree and violated it numerous times over the years, but ultimately, in January 1999, the decree was lifted, after a decade of court supervision. The current composition of the department is 15% female. However, Defendant has never made any sincere effort to remedy its culture of harassment and discrimination against women. For example, as recently as 2018, Defendant paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle a case brought by a female firefighter who alleged she was sexually harassed and ostracized, with even her bed at her station covered with feces and urine. These cases, which have been filed, settled, and litigated for years, have had zero impact on the Defendant’s culture of misogyny and discrimination, which continues unabated.

From there the complaint gets into great factual detail about her treatment; a US Department of Labor Investigation that (according to the complaint) vindicated her claims; and acts of retaliation that included vindictive transfers of Perata and her husband (also an EMS Captain) from the training division, her demotion, and the weaponizing of the SFFD disciplinary process against her.

Here are the 18 counts:

  1. Gender Discrimination in Employment– 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
  2. Pregnancy and Lactation Discrimination in Employment – 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
  3. Gender Discrimination in Employment – Disparate Impact – 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
  4. Gender Discrimination in Employment – Retaliation – 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
  5. Pregnancy and Lactation Discrimination in Employment – Retaliation – 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
  6. Interference with FMLA Rights
  7. Retaliation – FMLA Rights
  8. Violation of FLSA – 29 U.S.C. § 207(r)
  9. Retaliation – FLSA – 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3)
  10. Disparate Treatment in Violation of FEHA (Gender)
  11. Employment Discrimination – Disparate Treatment in Violation of FEHA (Pregnancy and Lactation)
  12. Harassment – Gender – California FEHA;
  13. Harassment – Pregnancy and Lactation – California FEHA;
  14. Failure to Prevent Employment Discrimination & Harassment – California FEHA
  15. Retaliation – California FEHA
  16. Failure to Reasonably Accommodate Pregnancy – Cal. Gov. Code § 12945(a), Cal. Govt Code § 12945.2
  17. Failure to Reasonably Accommodate Lactation – Cal. Gov. Code § 12945(a)
  18. Violation of Labor Code § 1102.5

Here is a copy of the complaint:

It is a long but interesting read.

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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