SFMTA settles two cases against former Muni head, faces another lawsuit

Most recent, filed in March, alleges retaliation for cooperating with an internal investigation

Former Muni chief John Haley’s name is back in the courts again.

In a lawsuit filed in March, a former San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency employee alleges he was the victim of punitive, retaliatory actions by Haley after giving an interview for an internal investigation into claims of sexual harassment, part of the agency’s own #MeToo movement that ultimately urged the former director of transit’s retirement in October 2018 .

Lee Summerlott, former SFMTA deputy director of rail maintenance, filed the suit in March in State Superior Court. It claims he received “unsubstantiated” negative performance reviews, exclusion from activities pertinent to his role and, ultimately, termination as a result of his cooperation with the agency’s own Equal Employment Opportunity Office regarding allegations by a female co-worker.

Summerlott had a lengthy career in rail maintenance, having served for 30 years in San Diego before coming to SFMTA in 2014. He reorganized the division, increased in-service miles of rail cars by 30% and “consistently received positive ratings and feedback in his annual evaluations” by Haley, the lawsuit states.

But he received “baseless” critical feedback from Haley in February 2018, just one month after he gave an interview for the internal investigation into Haley’s behavior, and his efforts to rectify the situation were rebuffed and his complaints of retaliation to the agency unanswered, the filing alleges. Summerlott believed his job would be eliminated, and began the process of early retirement in order to “exit the toxic culture at SFMTA.”

He was terminated in September 2018, just one month before he could exit through his retirement plan, after having been denied additional extended leave for a work-place injury sustained a few months prior when he slipped on a grease spill.

John Coté, a spokesperson from the City Attorney’s Office, said the City has not yet been served with the case.

The Examiner broke news in 2018 of Haley’s alleged repeated misconduct with its reporting on two lawsuits against the former Muni head accusing him of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Sabrina Suzuki, then Haley’s senior management assistant, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in September 2018 accusing Haley of inappropriately touching her and engaging in a pattern of discriminatory behaviors over the duration of her career at the agency.

The lawsuit against Haley and SFMTA included claims that Haley discussed female employees using sexual terms, asked Suzuki to show off her outfits and inhibited her from receiving training necessary to advance her career.

Suzuki and SFMTA reached a settlement agreement in March of this year, providing Suzuki with $175,000 to be split with her attorney, according to Coté.

Then, in April of last year, Kezia Tang filed a lawsuit against Haley and the SFMTA alleging discrimination against her for being a bisexual woman. It claimed Haley denied her promotions and, later, publicly demoted her, both in retaliation for her raising questions or concerns with agency programs. Prior to her suing Haley, a fellow employee filed whistleblower complaint on Tang’s behalf with the EEO division.

That lawsuit was pulled from Superior Court and moved to federal court, where terms of a settlement were agreed upon in December 2019. Coté said the SFMTA Board approved the deal — $110,000 to be split between Tang and her attorney — in 2020.

After the pervasive culture of harassment, verbal abuse and discrimination was revealed, Mayor London Breed appointed Dolores Blanding as an independent “ombudsperson” to investigate in order to provide a real inside look as well as possible solutions.

SFMTA quickly implemented sone of her recommendations, including staffing changes and committing to training employees on respectful workplace behaviors and how to report misconduct.



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