A lawsuit filed against Muni manager Nelson Williams alleges he treated women in the fare inspection department like ‘second-class citizens.’ (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Women sue Muni alleging fare-inspection manager bullied, groped subordinates

A manager in Muni’s fare inspection unit has been sued for allegedly groping a subordinate and “bullying” other subordinates, according to a complaint filed March 29 in San Francisco Superior Court.

The complaint comes at a time of change and turmoil over claims of harassment and discrimination at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni.

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin has previously promised his employees that the agency would change from the top down. Since that promise, several high-level staff members at the center of controversy have left the department.

Mayor London Breed also ordered a top-down evaluation of the agency’s human resources practices by an independent ombudsperson after unresolved harassment and discrimination complaints were brought to light by the San Francisco Examiner. That process is ongoing.

A number of those unresolved harassment complaints resulted in the March lawsuit against fare inspection manager Nelson Williams, filed by four women, all of whom are transit fare inspectors. Fare inspectors previously alluded to Williams’ behavior in interviews with the Examiner, but the lawsuit provides more detail on allegations ranging from verbal to physical harassment.

Williams’ allegedly nurtured a workplace culture that treated women liked “second-class citizens,” according to the complaint.

One of those fare inspectors, Veronica Lujan, alleges Williams told her fellow staffers she “had a good ass,” would talk about how much women Muni passengers inspectors cited on the bus “wanted” him, and would stare at women Muni passengers’ bodies and say “this is how you look and not get caught,” according to the March complaint.

In another exchange, Lujan alleged Williams asked her if she liked “hot dogs,” which she said was unwelcomed sexual innuendo.

Lujan filed a complaint with SFMTA and later was denied a promotion she said she was qualified for, which she alleges was due to her complaint.

Another fare inspector, Whitney Smith, alleged in the complaint that Williams romantically pursued her despite being rebuffed repeatedly. Williams also said Smith was more likely to get a promotion if she would “be more flexible” about her uniform.

Smith also alleges Williams inappropriately touched her in at least two instances.

In the first instance, Williams repeatedly invited Smith out to coffee. She initially said no, but said yes after Williams asked a third time in a more assertive manner, because he was her supervisor, according to the complaint. “On the way to get coffee, while crossing the street, (Williams) put his hand around Smith, grabbed her arm and brushed against her breast,” the complaint reads.

In another incident in January last year, Smith requested a new uniform after returning from maternity leave. When she tried on her new jacket, Williams started to touch Smith to make “coat adjustments” without her permission, touching her arms and wrists. Williams then asked her to model uniforms of different sizes.

“He had her model each uniform while he stared at her body,” the complaint alleged.

After Smith complained of the incidents to SFMTA, she was not interviewed for a supervisor position she claims she was qualified for, despite being third on a list of qualified applicants, after all other applicants had been interviewed, she alleged.

When the Examiner highlighted allegations against Williams last year, he said “I have no comment. Frankly, they are liars. The truth is not in them.”

City Attorneys Office spokesperson John Cote said in a statement that the lawsuit “involves disputed personnel matters, which, by law, have confidentiality protections that limit what we can say.”

He added, “We’re focused on defending the MTA in court, not trying this case in the press. The MTA takes the issue of workplace harassment very seriously. The agency is committed to a work environment that is safe, supportive and respectful.”

Williams also garnered headlines in 2004 when he was a deputy sheriff, after allegedly threatening a sergeant and being ordered to turn his gun, according to a San Francisco Chronicle story.

“I will kick your f——— a—- and put your mother in the cemetery,” Williams allegedly told the sergeant.

Williams earned $97,656 annually as of 2017, according to the open records website Transparent California.


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