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Breed hires independent ‘high level manager’ to investigate sexual harassment allegations at Muni

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Mayor London Breed (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Mayor London Breed has hired a new “high-level manager” who will be uniquely empowered to investigate harassment, discrimination and bullying at all levels of Muni, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

This independent “ombudsperson” has been granted power to hold any San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency employee accountable — from the the highest echelons of leadership to the everyday bus operator — in order to rout out harassment at the agency, Breed wrote in a letter penned to all SFMTA employees on Friday.

“Every employee, regardless of position or the department they work in, deserves to be treated with fairness, dignity, respect and above all, to feel safe in their workplace,” Breed wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Examiner.

SEE RELATED: Harassment investigations at SFMTA go nowhere, employees allege

Breed announced Dolores Blanding as the first hire for the ombudsperson position, who first began serving San Francisco in 1984 as an assistant personnel analyst, and retired in 2007 as human resources director of the San Francisco International Airport.

The hire comes at a crossroads for the agency, as employees have come forward detailing allegations of sexual exploitation, groping, racial slurs and more that have gone unaddressed by SFMTA. Those employees later came to the San Francisco Examiner, and alleged that multiple harasssment cases presented to SFMTA and The City’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office and Department of Human Resources fell on deaf ears.

Even the head of Muni operations, John Haley, was accused of sexual harassment by a subordinate in a lawsuit filed two weeks ago, which was first reported by the Examiner. That subordinate, Sabrina Suzuki, said she brought her complaints to the SFMTA only to have them dismissed, which prompted her suit.

While Breed explicitly wrote in her letter that she could not comment on individual lawsuits or complaints, Breed voiced concern at the pattern of complaints.

“Recent allegations against employees at the SFMTA have made it clear to me that the current Human Resources and EEO structure at SFMTA is not only inadequate, but lacks the trust and accountability employees deserve,” Breed wrote.

SEE RELATED: Sexual harassment suit alleges head of SF Muni operations inappropriately touched assistant

The new ombudsperson, Blanding, will have the power to identify and implement corrective actions in response to employee complaints, will be responsible to ensure the “appropriate level” of discipline is administered, promptly respond to EEO and human resources complaints, establish a new system of accountability to “track corrective actions and discipline,” identify individuals with “patterns of multiple complaints” and to prescribe actions to deal with them and make recommendations to the mayor, the SFMTA Board of Directors, SFMTA leadership on any changes needed to make the workplace “free of discrimination and harassment.”

Blanding begins her new role next week.

Debbie Mesloh, president of the Commission on Status of Women, hailed the move to protect those who have been harassed in the workplace, especially considering the controversial appointment process of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court despite sexual assault allegations against him.

“So many people who have experienced harassment and humiliation in the workplace haven’t felt their voice has been heard,” Mesloh said. “I think the mayor sent a strong signal today that under her watch, this is going to change.”

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