One of 3 SFFD LGBTQ discrimination cases settles

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 16, 2023
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San Francisco Fire Department Rescue Captain Ronnie Jones has settled his discrimination case with the city. Photo: Courtesy Law Offices Mayor Joseph L Alioto and Angela Alioto
San Francisco Fire Department Rescue Captain Ronnie Jones has settled his discrimination case with the city. Photo: Courtesy Law Offices Mayor Joseph L Alioto and Angela Alioto

The Black transgender San Francisco Fire Department paramedic who filed a discrimination suit against the city alleging discrimination, harassment, and retaliation has settled the case. Two other discrimination cases filed against the city by out fire personnel remain pending.

The Board of Supervisors voted to approve a $149,000 settlement in the case of Ronnie Jones v. the City and County of San Francisco on May 9.

San Francisco City Attorney spokesperson Jen Kwart stated to the Bay Area Reporter August 16, "We believe the settlement approved by the Board of Supervisors is an appropriate resolution given the inherent costs of continued litigation."

Angela Alioto, Jones' attorney and a former Board of Supervisors president, told the B.A.R. she "can't discuss" the Jones case because the terms of the settlement, other than the dollar amount, are confidential. Jones could not be reached for comment.

The B.A.R. first reported on the suit in February 2021. Jones has worked for the SFFD since 2006 and came out as transgender in 2015. After that things weren't the same, Alioto previously said.

For example, according to the initial complaint, Jones was told to switch to using the men's locker room and other facilities at the station — but without the other people who work there being informed of the transition, which created confusion and discomfort.

"Mr. Jones expressed his concerns with being put into a situation where he would just show up one day and walk into the men's locker room after using the women's locker room for the preceding 11 years," the complaint states. "Mr. [John] Christy [of EMS leadership] agreed that the concerns were valid but was clear that [the department of human resources] refused to allow or sanction a communication to the members of Station 49."

Jones faced critical comments from co-workers after moving his locker at the station, located near the city's produce market in the Bayview. For example, one stated, "Oh, fuck this shit. Now she has a locker in here now."

According to the complaint, another co-worker, identified as Jonathan Halverson, loomed over Jones and referred to him with female honorifics in what a news release from Alioto claimed was an attempt to "demean and humiliate" Jones.

"Mr. Halverson re-engaged with Mr. Jones and attempted to physically assault Mr. Jones by trying to grab his collar," the complaint states.

Later on, Halverson would glare at Jones in the communal kitchen or stare at him, the complaint states. Jones believed that Halverson was stalking him.

The complaint goes on to state that "despite being the target of harassment, Mr. Jones still sought out opportunities for advancement in the department because he is very passionate about the work." Jones applied for the position of permanent Rescue Captain. Jones was not hired for the position, but an individual of lower rank on a list of eligible employees was.

In 2020, Jones reluctantly gave a presentation on how the fire department should treat trans patients.

"During his presentation, the topic of pronouns was addressed and a participant in the training (an individual seeking a Rescue Captain position) stated openly that he would not refer to transgender people with their preferred pronoun because it was 'bad grammar,'" the complaint states. "This comment was left to stand by the management team in the room and not challenged by anyone else. As a result of this unchallenged statement, Mr. Jones felt that there was open hostility to treating transgender individuals with dignity and respect."

Jones worked for the SFFD as recently as March 2023, with the department posting on X (formerly Twitter) that it "is proud of Rescue Captain Ronnie Jones for being the winner of the Trans Artist Award."

Other cases

Alioto is also representing Keith Baraka, a gay Black San Francisco firefighter who is suing the city on allegations of discrimination, as the B.A.R. previously reported. Alioto told the B.A.R. that the case is headed to trial "in March or April 2024."

In that complaint, Baraka said he was subject to anti-LGBTQ slurs, among other actions, and was adversely affected by racism and homophobia in the department.

The third case involves Nicol Juratovac, a lesbian who is an assistant chief in the department and alleged discrimination

In her complaint, Juratovac claimed she wanted to change the culture at the SFFD. Instead, she was retaliated against after exposing cheating on promotion exams, safety violations, and racism in the department — as well as for blowing the whistle on what her attorney described as a "drunken" party at a fire station in Noe Valley in 2017.

A spokesperson for Cannata O'Toole Fickes and Olson, the law firm representing her, told the B.A.R. August 16 that Juratovac's case is in a pre-trial mandatory settlement conference as it moves forward to a potential trial.

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