SFFD ambulance (Courtesy photo)

Lawsuit alleges SF Fire Department failed to stop harassment of transgender paramedic

A longtime paramedic with the San Francisco Fire Department is suing the city, alleging several instances of harassment and discrimination he faced as a Black trans man, his attorney said Thursday.

According to the lawsuit, Ronnie Jones began working with the department’s Emergency Medical Services in 2006 as an LGBTQ woman. After rising to the ranks of field evaluator at Station 49, in 2015 Jones began transitioning, at which point he encountered bullying and harassment that went unchecked by department leaders.

In 2017, Jones and EMS leadership asked the city’s Department of Human Resources to provide guidance on how to communicate to the rest of the staff at Station 49 that Jones would begin using the men’s locker room, but the department declined. And when Jones suddenly began using the men’s locker room, he was met with disdain from other male staff, the lawsuit alleges.

In another instance, a fellow employee repeatedly referred to Jones as “Miss” during an altercation that turned physical when the same employee grabbed Jones by the collar.

The incident was reported to DHR, which then filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint, however, merely resulted in a cease-and-desist letter for that employee and, according to the suit, led to more harassment from the employee.

Although Jones reported the continued harassment to DHR, DHR said because the investigation into the original complaint had already been closed and, therefore, deemed resolved, no further action could be taken by DHR.

Jones, however, appealed the complaint’s closure to the city’s Civil Service Commission, which then granted the appeal and ordered DHR to further investigate the complaint and provide training to employees at Station 49. But, according to the suit, the hostile atmosphere at work continued.

The lawsuit also alleges that Jones was twice denied a promotion to become a permanent Rescue Captain, both times losing the job to less qualified employees.

Jones’ attorney Angela Alioto filed the suit Feb. 5 in San Francisco Superior Court.

“Ronnie Jones is one of the most courageous individuals I have ever known, a fighter who has survived a terrific onslaught of discrimination. Shame on the SF Fire Department for years of discriminatory behavior toward someone who’s record is exemplary and who deserves to be treated equally as all Americans do. The failure of DHR is egregious and I am sure that a jury of San Franciscans will agree with me,” Alioto said in a statement.

In response, City Attorney’s Office Spokesman John Cote said, “The city takes equal employment issues seriously and is committed to fostering a welcoming inclusive workplace free of discrimination or harassment based on race, gender identity or any other protected characteristic. We have not even been served with this lawsuit, so we’re not able to address it in detail. We’ll review it once we’ve been served with it.”

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