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Black S.F. employees file federal complaint alleging rampant discrimination and harm

Mallory Moench

Jul 23, 2021

Dante King is a leader in the Black Employee Alliance, which filed a complaint with a federal agency this week alleging rampant discrimination and harm.

A coalition of Black city workers in San Francisco filed a complaint with a federal agency this week alleging rampant discrimination and harm, particularly in racially disproportionate discipline of employees.

The group based its complaint — filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — off data provided from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency that showed disparities in discipline for workers. From July 2020 to June 2021, Black workers were the subject of 49% of disciplinary cases, despite making up only 28% of employees. Other races had lower shares of cases than their proportions of the workforce.

The same employee could be a repeat offender in more than one case. Not all discipline is subjective — some transportation safety violations under state and federal law automatically trigger repercussions — and 93% of the transit operators subject to those laws are people of color, making them likelier to have higher rates of discipline.

But some specific incidents seem to reveal Black workers received harsher punishments than other races in similar situations. Last July, a white male worker who missed work received a written warning, while Black female employees were each suspended two days for oversleeping — one last July and one in October.

In another case last December, the agency suspended a white employee for five days for falsifying time sheets, abusing overtime, violating the city’s vehicle policy and holding an unauthorized second job. Last July, the agency suspended a Black worker for six to 10 days for alleged overtime fraud, after initially recommending his dismissal.

“This is just a travesty,” said Dante King, a leader in the Black Employee Alliance group with around 400 members that filed the complaint. “It’s very striking.”

Inequitable treatment of Black city workers is present across city departments, according to a report commissioned by Mayor London Breed that was released earlier this month. The report also revealed deep flaws in the city’s process of resolving discrimination complaints, leading to employees losing faith in the system. The SFMTA has acknowledged racial disparities in the past and approved a racial equity action plan last year to fix inequities, with nine of the plan’s 80 promised reforms focused on discipline.

“The SFMTA is deeply committed to understanding workforce data related to discipline, hiring, training and employee experience, and implementing process improvement strategies to mitigate racial disparities,” spokeswoman Erica Kato said.

The Black Employee Alliance also filed a state discrimination complaint in March and was told to pursue individual, instead of group, complaints, which four members have now done, King said. The state complaint alleged racial pay disparities, which the Department of Human Resources disputed, and disproportionate discipline, which it admitted was an issue.

The group decided to file the federal complaint Wednesday after receiving data from the SFMTA Tuesday.

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