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Black employees condemn S.F. Dept. of HR for silencing discrimination complaints

Juan Carlos Lara

Oct 2, 2020

Cedric Jackson (left) and Dante King address the crowd in front of City Hall during an Oct. 2 rally held by Black city workers. Photo by Juan Carlos Lara

Dozens of Black San Francisco employees, undeterred by hot weather and harmful air quality, rallied at San Francisco City Hall Friday afternoon to call for justice after recent revelations that a Department of Human Resources manager purportedly forged a fraudulent settlement agreement for a Black MTA employee.

“I worked directly in DHR for four years,” said Dante King, the main speaker at the event, who is now with the MTA. “I will say this: During my time there I got to see people do things that undermined fairness, that undermined equality.”

The Black Employee Alliance and Coalition Against Anti-Blackness hosted roughly 50 participants at the rally at City Hall calling for accountability for city officials. The latter, they allege, are complicit in the suppression of discrimination complaints by Black city workers.

Organizers specifically named Micki Callahan, the director of the Department of Human Resources, and Linda Simon, the director of Equal Employment Opportunity, an office within the department. .

Mission Local recently spoke with San Francisco departmental HR officials who said that discrimination complaints by employees were purposefully edited by the department to downplay the gravity of the accusations, then often disregarded entirely.

King said that Callahan and Simon were either involved in the EEO manager Rachel Sherman’s alleged forgery scheme , or were incompetent in not knowing it was happening.

Two days ago, a lawyer for Simon issued cease and desist letters to members of the Black Employee Alliance and the Coalition Against Anti-Blackness. The groups defiantly disseminated the letters to their members and city officials.

“Ms. Simon had no knowledge of Sherman’s actions. She did not condone Sherman’s actions or attempt to cover them up. For you to claim otherwise, and to assert, for example, that Ms. Simon was involved in ‘criminal activity,’ is defamatory,” the letter from Simon’s lawyer said.

Organizers replied to Simon saying, “The Black Employee Alliance and Coalition Against Anti-Blackness will not relent from our quest for change, accountability, and transparency. We will also not be intimidated by San Francisco City Officials or leaders who decide we are too vocal and/or ‘problematic.’ As Black people, we have been (and continue to be) forced to be silent about our oppression and our oppressors. This is a blatant example and act of that oppression.”

King, who frequently joked at the event that he might be fired for speaking out, has a history of calling attention to racism within the city government.

Last April, King sent an email to San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott and his then-supervisor, Department of Human Resources Director Micki Callahan, accusing SFPD’s ranks of containing widespread, drastic anti-Black sentiment.

King, who was then on the tail end of two years as an implicit bias trainer for the department, recalled an incident in which a group of SFPD captains and lieutenants took him to lunch, where they told him officers would respond better to the training if King were white.

“We would be able to hear you better. Most of the people in the room would be able to hear you better,” King recollected one officer telling him.

Although the name of that officer was redacted when city officials released the document to the San Francisco Examiner, the paper later confirmed that officer to be Captain Jason Cherniss.

Organizers invited multiple city officials to speak at today’s event, including Mayor London Breed and more than half of city supervisors, whom they see as having “demonstrated consistent support for the challenges faced by Black employees and residents of San Francisco,” according to an email announcing the rally.

Supervisors Shamann Walton and Matt Haney were the only ones to take up the invitation.

“It is not okay that Black employees have complaints that are not taken seriously. It is not okay to go to work and be mistreated,” said Walton, the lone Black supervisor. Addressing organizers, Walton said, “Thank you for doing this today and calling attention to an issue that has been going on too long.”

Haney acknowledged the “brutal” conditions of the day, citing the participants’ attendance despite the heat advisory, air quality advisory and ongoing pandemic, as evidence of their commitment.

“It shouldn’t take revelations of a scandal for us to say, ‘you are absolutely right, we believe you and we need to do better,’” Haney said.

Several Black city employees in attendance also spoke regarding their own experiences of racism in the workplace.

Adrienne Heim, who works for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and is a member of the Black and African American Affinity Group, pointed out that Black MTA workers were disproportionately charged with disciplinary offenses.

Dennis Mars, who has worked for the Department of Public Health since 2014, says he applied for two promotions and was passed over both times, despite having never been late, never missing a day, receiving the top score on a test among supervisor applicants, and receiving sixth place on a managers test.

Mars said one of the people who got the promotion instead of him has only been at the Department of Public Health for about two years, and the other scored much lower on the applicant test. Mars believes he did not receive the promotion as retaliation for filing an EEO complaint against a manager for failing to take action when a coworker threatened Mars with violence in 2018.

The City Attorney’s office is investigating the forged settlement agreement. The District Attorney’s office has also expressed interest in doing so.

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