SFFD trial: City starts cross-examination of lesbian assistant chief

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday September 11, 2023
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San Francisco Assistant Fire Chief Nicol Juratovac is suing the city claiming whistleblower retaliation and discrimination. Photo: Courtesy Cannata O'Toole and Olson
San Francisco Assistant Fire Chief Nicol Juratovac is suing the city claiming whistleblower retaliation and discrimination. Photo: Courtesy Cannata O'Toole and Olson

Lawyers for the City and County of San Francisco spent September 11 challenging a lesbian San Francisco Fire Department assistant chief suing the city for discrimination and retaliation during the third day of the trial.

The civil jury trial in San Francisco Superior Court is before Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos.

At one point, Deputy City Attorney Amy Frenzen challenged Nicol Juratovac's assertion she reported the alleged drunken on-duty party that had led a paramedic not to respond to a fire call, which she'd testified September 8 led to increasing tension with department higher-ups, as the Bay Area Reporter .

Frenzen brought up a letter from Juratovac mentioning the alleged party, which was at Fire Station No. 11 in Noe Valley.

"This isn't actually a report about Station 11, it's a report about [assistant chief Bill] Storti spreading rumors. Correct?" Frenzen asked.

On September 8, Juratovac had testified that Storti didn't want to report the party. In the contemporaneous letter, Juratovac states Storti was telling people Juratovac was behind an investigation into it, which she also said during her September 8 testimony.

"I explained the circumstances surrounding the information I was getting about the party," Juratovac said, adding that Storti eventually reported the party himself, after being ordered to.

Frenzen asked if the letter was requesting that "Storti's behavior be addressed."

Answered Juratovac: "It's obvious that the person [Storti] needs to be investigated."

The plaintiff 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.

In her opening statement September 7, Juratovac's attorney Therese Y. Cannata, of Cannata O'Toole and Olson laid out seven disciplinary actions that'd been taken against Juratovac, which the plaintiff claims were part of a pattern of retaliation and discrimination against her just for doing her job — all after she stuck up for a recruit who alleged bullying.

Cannata claimed Juratovac would be facing further discipline had she not sued back in 2021, as the B.A.R. covered at the time.

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; 7) and a dispute over a lost document in 2020.

Juratovac completes testimony

Before cross-examination by the city began, Cannata finished direct questioning of the star witness. Juratovac testified that she brought a discrimination complaint in 2020 against a colleague who "disparaged and mocked me in front of other members, mostly subordinates, despite my many attempts to tell him to stop."

The disparaging and mocking remarks consisted of the colleague characterizing a fire response led by Juratovac at the John Muir Apartments, near the county line on the westside, as "comedy hour."

The colleague also allegedly said that Juratovac was "like a kicked dog that just keeps coming back to its owner."

In her complaint, Juratovac brought up that she is a female Asian American and LGBTQ.

The cumulative effect of seven years of investigation took its toll on Juratovac, she said as direct testimony ended.

"It was incredibly hurtful," she said. "I was embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated; I was sad and I felt like I was constantly being undermined. People I'd helped get into the department, had promoted, were now shunning me. People called me privately, offering support, but wouldn't do it in public in front of anybody. I knew it was a black mark on my career, whether I wanted to promote in our department or some other department. It just killed my spirit for the job."

"No further questions at this time," Cannata said, closing her questioning.

Later on, Frenzen challenged Juratovac's characterization of criticism about her work as being part of a retaliation pattern, asking if fire department members often "talk about what you can do better?"

Juratovac agreed that these conversations often happened but it was the "tone and tenor" of them that concerned her.

They were "more in a malicious tone than a 'lessons learned' tone," Juratovac said.

Cross-examination is anticipated to continue September 12 in Department 303 of San Francisco County Superior Court, 400 McAllister Street, at 9:30 a.m.

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