SFFD trial: Assistant fire chief facing losses almost up to $1M, expert says

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday September 25, 2023
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A lesbian assistant fire chief is suing the San Francisco Fire Department alleging discrimination and retaliation. Photo: John Ferrannini<br>
A lesbian assistant fire chief is suing the San Francisco Fire Department alleging discrimination and retaliation. Photo: John Ferrannini

A damages expert testified that the lesbian assistant fire chief suing the city for discrimination and retaliation could be facing lifetime financial losses of almost a million dollars based on the department's actions.

Charles Robert Mahla was called to the stand September 25 by attorneys representing Nicol Juratovac, on a day that also saw a witness that had been called by the city. The civil jury trial in San Francisco Superior Court is before Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos. Juratovac is being represented by Therese Y. Cannata of Cannata O'Toole and Olson.

Mahla runs the Sacramento office of Econ One Research Inc., and has calculated damages for over 20 years. In this case, he was called upon to look at the "economic impact and loss to Ms. Juratovac from the alleged discrimination from the San Francisco Fire Department," he said.

To do so, he utilized pay stubs, pay schedules, and information from the city's retirement system.

"We look at the world where the alleged discrimination doesn't occur, we call that the world without discrimination," Mahla testified. "The second place is the world where we find it, the actual world."

First, he calculated that because Juratovac was not afforded the opportunity to become a strike team leader trainee for the Wildland Firefighting Strike Team from 2013 through 2020, she could have earned $142,405.

The city alleges she did not fulfill requirements to work on the strike team.

Then things get more speculative — Mahla testified that Juratovac would be owed $273,700 if she were on the strike team from 2020 through her expected retirement in 2027. Then there's the matter of a promotion Juratovac alleges she didn't get due to discrimination, the promotion to assistant deputy chief.

Assistant deputy chiefs can't serve on the strike team, and as management personnel are not entitled to overtime, though they are entitled to paid executive time off. And there's a different pension schedule, which he calculated Juratovac, 55, would need "through December 2050," which is her expected lifetime according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, he said.

All told, Mahla claimed that the amount that Juratovac missed out on, is missing out on, and would miss out on could be as high as $949,045.

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

During cross-examination, Deputy City Attorney Amy Frenzen took issue with the 2021 date that Mahla used as when Juratovac should have been promoted.

Asked Frenzen: "You have not seen any documents supporting this assumption, is that correct?"

Mahla: "I have not."

Asked Frenzen: "And you actually don't know if it's a civil service position or an at-will position?"

Mahla: "I don't."

After being asked several questions about the job positions, Mahla said, "This is an assumption I was asked to make for counsel."

Frenzen also disagreed that Juratovac would necessarily make less money in her current position, due to the opportunity for overtime pay.

Deputy chief of operations testifies

Earlier Monday, the city called Robert Postel, the deputy chief of operations. Juratovac had accused him of mocking her on a department radio by saying "break" multiple times in a row; Postel testified that he did not intend to mock her, but that on one occasion Juratovac said "break" so many times that it "created chaos" at an incident, he claimed.

"I may have brought it up with her," he said.

Postel also did not recall using the phrase "making the department great again" in 2018.

Juratovac had ordered the removal of a "making the Department GREAT AGAIN" sign at a fire station.

Postel also did not recall repeating a conversation to subordinates in which Juratovac allegedly said he had an "invisible backpack full of white male privilege." He did remember, however, saying, "We were using more words than water" to fight a fire on John Muir Drive.

The trial is anticipated to continue September 26 in Department 303 of San Francisco County Superior Court, 400 McAllister Street, at 9:30 a.m.

In total, 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, and eighth days cover these in further detail.)

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