SFFD trial: Juratovac makes last plea as both sides rest their cases

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday September 26, 2023
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San Francisco Fire Department Assistant Chief Nicol Juratovac took the stand one last time Tuesday in her discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the city. Photo: Courtesy Cannata O'Toole and Olson<br>
San Francisco Fire Department Assistant Chief Nicol Juratovac took the stand one last time Tuesday in her discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the city. Photo: Courtesy Cannata O'Toole and Olson

The lesbian assistant fire chief suing the city for discrimination and retaliation testified one last time before both San Francisco's and her lawyers rested their cases September 26, setting the stage for closing arguments and jury deliberations.

That testimony came on the 11th day of the civil jury trial in San Francisco Superior Court, before Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos.

Nicol Juratovac's attorney, Therese Y. Cannata, of Cannata O'Toole and Olson, asked why she'd wanted to be an assistant deputy chief — a promotion denied her due to the department's discriminatory actions, she claims.

"The opportunity is the type of opportunity I'd been pursuing for my entire career — to apply my knowledge, skills, and experience," she said.

Juratovac also said it would've given her a more stable work-home balance as she and her wife were hoping to start a family. The position would have been 40 hours per week, Monday through Friday, instead of the normal 24-hour shifts firefighters often work.

"I would love to start a family and the 40-hour-a-week schedule would be so much more friendly and conducive to that," Juratovac said. "I really would love to have that experience."

Deputy City Attorney Adam Shapiro asked, during cross-examination, "assistant deputy chief positions serve at the pleasure of the chief of the department, is that correct?"

Juratovac agreed that is, indeed, correct. Last week, Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson, a lesbian, testified that she did not consider Juratovac for promotion because she lacked certain "soft skills" necessary for advancement.

Earlier in the day, the defense brought its own financial damages expert, Eric Barnes, who works for consulting firm JS Held. Barnes testified that there were areas he disagreed with the plaintiff's damages expert, who testified September 25.

In particular, Barnes said it's still possible that Juratovac could get promoted to assistant deputy chief, and that therefore it shouldn't be assumed when assessing damages she has suffered due to the city's alleged discrimination that she won't.

Further, if she's promoted before 2027, she suffers no pension loss, which plaintiff expert Charles Robert Mahla factored during his testimony to come up with a figure of almost $1 million. One only needs to be an assistant deputy chief for a year to have a pension increase. Barnes did not arrive at a figure during his testimony.

"I found it speculative that she would be discriminated against in perpetuity in the future," Barnes said. "Normally, when it's found people are discriminated against, city and government agencies try to make sure that doesn't happen in the future."

Barnes also repeated the city's claim that Juratovac was not allowed to work as a strike team leader trainee because she did not complete required prerequisites.


Deposition transcripts were also read, with the lawyers role-playing as their current opponents and as the witnesses. One was a deposition of Rebecca Lynn Sherman, who until fall 2020 worked in the city's Department of Human Resources, which investigated Juratovac's claims of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment.

Sherman — who testified at the time of the deposition she lived in North Carolina and had no intentions of returning to the Golden State — had said she was involved in at least three investigations into discrimination, retaliation, and harassment at the fire department, including Juratovac's.

She left human resources before that was completed, and struggled to complete the investigation due to COVID, a family death, and mixing up Juratovac's phone digits, she said.

When asked if she started to form an opinion about Juratovac's claims, Sherman said, "I remember it was sufficient to warrant further investigation due to the city's EEO [equal employment opportunity] standards at the time, but I don't recall drawing conclusions beyond that." She did agree that seven disciplinary investigations was "unusual for a person of her [Jurtovac's] rank in the fire department."

In her opening statement September 7, Cannata laid out those seven disciplinary investigations that'd been undertaken against her client, which she claims were part of a pattern of retaliation and discrimination against Juratovac just for doing her job.

These were, in chronological order, 1) about an argument ostensibly about a mask at a 2014 fire; 2) her order that a firefighter who'd been arrested for driving under the influence stop driving on duty in 2015; 3 and 4) two separate incidents at San Francisco International Airport in 2016; 5) a dispute over proper reporting of secondary employment in 2019; 6) a dispute about a ladder drill in 2019; and 7) and a dispute over a lost document in 2020.

Juratovac alleges eight causes of action against the city: unlawful retaliation in violation of the labor code; unlawful retaliation in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act; discrimination based on sexual orientation; discrimination based on race; discrimination based on gender; unlawful harassment; failure to investigate and prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation; and violation of the California Public Records Act.

(Previous reports covering the trial's first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, and 10th days cover these in further detail.)

The trial continues September 28 in Department 303 of San Francisco County Superior Court, 400 McAllister Street, at 9:30 a.m.

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