John Haley, former director of transit for the SFMTA, is facing new allegations of gender-based discrimination.

Bisexual woman files lawsuit alleging discrimination against former Muni boss

A new lawsuit filed against Muni’s parent agency alleges discrimination against an Asian woman for her ethnicity, sexuality, and gender.

The suit also alleges the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency had faulty fare boxes aboard some of its 800 buses, despite the staffer’s attempts to question the agency before it followed through with the farebox order.

Kezia Tang, who worked for the SFMTA for nine years, alleged in a lawsuit filed April 18 that former SFMTA Director of Transit John Haley passed her up from promotions, then publicly — and humiliatingly — demoted her. Haley’s role was to oversee Muni within the SFMTA.

Haley allegedly questioned Tang’s gender, saying to a gathering of agency staff, “Is she a man or a woman?”

The suit alleges Haley was talking about Tang’s haircut and attire. Publicly posted photos show she sports a trendy, close-cropped, buzz-cut hairstyle.

An anonymous person filed a discrimination complaint with human resources based on that comment, the suit detailed.

In responding to the allegation about fare boxes, John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, said only a few parts were ever affected.

“Our information is that across the 1,336 new fareboxes, a small percentage had some defective parts,” he said. “The vendor replaced the defective parts and bore the cost.”

Haley retired from the SFMTA in October last year to praise from his boss, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

But his departure was mired in controversy, as it came shortly after a lawsuit alleging he groped his subordinate and also denied her advancement within the agency.

In this newest lawsuit, Tang also alleges Haley held her career back.

In 2016 when she started work directly under Haley, Tang was first tasked to consolidate various operations divisions. When Tang made a recommendation to consolidate the agency’s support shops, which had also been recommended by independent consultants, Haley rejected her recommendation and “stopped being receptive to communication” from Tang, the suit alleges.

Haley then “went out of their way to block” Tang’s possible promotions, the suit alleges. A role she was qualified for was advertised within the agency, and she applied but was ignored. When she called human resources to ask why she wasn’t called for an interview, she was told she “did not meet the hiring criteria” but was later told that was a mistake.

A transit manager who knew Tang but also worked closely with Haley said she overheard him say “We really need a man in this job.”

At her request, Tang was transferred to manage a project to install new fareboxes on all 800 Muni coaches by December 2017.

But, “when plaintiff inquired as to the quality of the fareboxes that were ordered, she was told to just install what has been ordered and that the company that produced the fareboxes were reliable based on their industry reputation and size.”

Illinois-based company SPX Genfare won the farebox contract in 2016, for $30 million. It garnered headlines at the time as SFMTA was retiring Muni’s classic, colorful bus transfers.

The farebox order turned out to be equally colorful.

Tang managed to get the new fareboxes installed on 800 coaches by the second week of January 2018, but then it was discovered that some untold number of the fareboxes “were not properly functioning,” Tang said.

Tang was removed from the farebox project, which she alleged staffers said was at the request of Haley. Two memos were later sent to the entire Transit Division staff to announce Tang would be in a new research role.

Instead of Tang, three men would take over the farebox project to “get it back on track,” the memo read.

An SFMTA IT manager, Lisa Walton, told Tang that Haley “may have thought the project is ‘too technical’ for a woman and that he needed to bring ‘the men in,’” according to the suit.

“To add insult to injury, [Tang] was asked to meet with these individuals to provide guidance and direction as to where and how issues were affecting the implementation of the [farebox] contract,” the suit reads.

By February, Tang was demoted. She no longer oversaw staff, and instead of being a manager, instead reported to other managers.

Though someone had filed both a whistleblower complaint on Tang’s behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity division in SFMTA, and a seperate complaint with HR, Tang said she did not have faith either would be investigated because she used to work in the Equal Employment Opportunity division.

Later that year, investigative reports by the San Francisco Examiner revealed many sexual harassment and racial discrimination complaints from SFMTA went unanswered by those divisions, which resulted in Mayor London Breed assigning an independent ombudsperson to overhaul the agency’s grievance practices. That work is ongoing.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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