San Francisco Assistant Chief Alleges Harassment and Retaliation

An assistant chief with the San Francisco Fire Department has filed suit claiming she has been targeted by ranking officers because of her gender, because of her Asian-American ancestry, because she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, for reporting misconduct within the department, and for her outspoken support of other victims of discrimination within the department.

Nicol Juratovac filed suit last month in San Francisco County Superior Court. She is alleging that since 2014 she has been subjected to “numerous unfounded and meritless disciplinary investigations.” The suit alleges the department “weaponized” these disciplinary investigations as a retaliatory tool against her because of her protected activities, including:

  • Disclosing instances of unlawful cheating on SFFD promotional exams to SFFD leadership;
  • Actively speaking out concerning intradepartmental discrimination against minority Fire Fighters, including Black and LGBTQ+ Fire Fighters;
  • Participating as a witness in multiple racial discrimination lawsuits;
  • Reporting instances of safety issues which violated local and state law(s);
  • Disclosing unlawful misconduct within the Department, including the 2017 incident involving Fire Fighters consuming alcohol on duty and sexually harassing probationary Fire Fighters;
  • Submitting complaints to the SFFD and DHR regarding rampant discrimination, harassment, and retaliation perpetuated by SFFD leadership against Assistant Chief Juratovac.

Chief Juratovac contends that her problems began in 2014 when she reported a Battalion Chief for “bullying and harassing behavior at an active fire scene.” At the time she was a captain (acting battalion chief). The BC responded by claiming she “abandoned her position… by assigning herself to Fire Attack Group Supervisor allegedly without notifying the other officers at the scene.” A formal investigation into her conduct at the fire lasted over one year, but resulted in no disciplinary findings against her.

The complaint goes on to list seven specific examples between 2014 and 2020 where ranking officers who were miffed about her protected activities, sought to have her disciplined. Each resulted in a disciplinary investigation by the fire department into Chief Juratovac. The complaint goes on to outline assurances made by Department of Human Resource personnel that they found Chief Juratovac’s claims of harassment and retaliation to be meritorious and would be addressing the matter. Quoting from the complaint:

  • For months, DHR represented to Assistant Chief Juratovac that it had completed its investigation of her complaint, found it to be meritorious and would soon bring an end to the harassment.
  • When confronted with its own dilatory tactics, however, DHR admitted in September of 2020 that it had been stringing her along, and that its promises to vindicate her were untrue.
  • After Assistant Chief Juratovac submitted her EEO complaint to DHR in October of 2019, Micki Callahan, Director of DHR, advised Assistant Chief Juratovac in January of 2020 that Rebecca Sherman, EEO Programs Manager, had been designated to investigate Assistant Chief Juratovac’s EEO Complaint.
  • Over the course of the following months, Ms. Sherman, acting within the course and scope of her employment, claimed to be proceeding with her investigation of Assistant Chief Juratovac’s complaint.
  • Although Assistant Chief Juratovac often requested status updates from Ms. Sherman, responses from Ms. Sherman were rare.
  • When Ms. Sherman did reply to Assistant Chief Juratovac, she communicated that she was diligently investigating Assistant Chief Juratovac’s complaint, including conducting interviews with key witnesses.
  • Notably, Ms. Sherman’s supervisors within DHR – including Ms. Callahan – were often copied on her written status updates to Assistant Chief Juratovac.
  • Thus, they were well aware of Ms. Sherman’s representations to Assistant Chief Juratovac.
  • They were also aware that Ms. Sherman’s representations were false and did absolutely nothing to stop Ms. Sherman’s lies nor “correct the record” for Assistant Chief Juratovac.
  • On or about May 3, 2020, Ms. Sherman called Assistant Chief Juratovac to notify her that she anticipated concluding her investigation within the following month.
  • Indeed, on July 7, 2020, Ms. Sherman informed Assistant Chief Juratovac that her investigation was complete, and that she had reached a preliminary determination finding that SFFD members had wrongfully discriminated against, retaliated against, and harassed Assistant Chief Juratovac.
  • Ms. Sherman told Assistant Chief Juratovac that she would have her investigative report completed by the end of the week.
  • While Ms. Sherman failed to ever provide a complete, definitive set of findings from her investigation, she made multiple assurances to Assistant Chief Juratovac over the course
  • of the following months that the investigation was nearly complete.
  • Not only did Ms. Sherman repeatedly promise that she would deliver her final, comprehensive investigation report, she assured Assistant Chief Juratovac that the individuals named in Assistant Chief Juratovac’s EEO complaint would be subject to disciplinary measures for their discriminatory conduct.
  • Ms. Sherman also advised Assistant Chief Juratovac that her report would include a recommendation that the then-pending disciplinary investigations against Assistant Chief Juratovac be dismissed.
  • In spite of Ms. Sherman’s promises to act quickly to finalize DHR’s determination letter, she failed to submit her recommendations to City leadership.
  • Instead, in the following months, under Ms. Callahan’s direct supervision and direction, Ms. Sherman offered Assistant Chief Juratovac a variety of flimsy excuses as to why the determination letter was not finalized or could not be issued.
  • Several times, Ms. Sherman falsely represented in emails to Assistant Chief Juratovac that she was waiting for Ms. Callahan to review and revise the determination letter.
  • Not once did Ms. Callahan or any other DHR personnel respond to correct Ms. Sherman or to advise that the investigation was not, in fact, complete.
  • Ms. Sherman, Ms. Callahan and Ms. Simon have all resigned or retired from City employment, without advising Assistant Chief Juratovac as to the status of the pending investigation.
  • Since then, multiple members of City and DHR personnel have advised Assistant Chief Juratovac that various law firms and consultants were either investigating Assistant Chief Juratovac’s complaint, or DHR’s failure to investigate Assistant Chief Juratovac’s complaint.
  • However, time has demonstrated that once again, the City has no real intent to hold those involved in the unlawful treatment of Assistant Chief Juratovac accountable.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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