San Francisco FF sues department, claims racist, homophobic treatment

San Francisco Firefighter Keith Baraka said he was called derogatory epithets, denied promotions and questioned about his HIV status by a supervisor

Nora Mishanec
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO — A longtime San Francisco firefighter, who says he faced years of harassment and discrimination for being Black and gay, filed a lawsuit against the city last week seeking damages.

Keith Baraka alleges he was subjected to racist comments and epithets and denied promotions during his 23 years as a member of the city’s Fire Department, according to a lawsuit he filed in federal court last week claiming unlawful workplace discrimination.

Baraka, 53, lost job opportunities and suffered emotional distress due to the unfair treatment, the suit claims.

“The city takes equal employment issues seriously and is committed to fostering a welcoming workplace free of discrimination or harassment based on race, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic,” said John Coté, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera. Coté declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.

San Francisco has faced multiple complaints of discrimination in employment. Two Black former Fire Department employees sued the city last year, claiming they were subjected to racial taunts, workplace harassment and retaliation. Another San Francisco firefighter filed suit against the city in 2015 alleging homophobia and harassment after he contracted HIV while responding to an accident.

Much of the alleged harassment detailed in the lawsuit took place during the 11 years Baraka spent as a firefighter at Station 6, which serves the Castro. He said his treatment there contradicted his perception of the Castro as a bastion of diversity and gay pride.

The firefighter “embarked on a nightmarish series of events as the target of harassment, not just from leadership, but especially from fellow firefighters at the station,” his attorney Angela Alioto said in a statement Monday.

Alioto is representing multiple current and former city workers who’ve sued over alleged discrimination in recent months, including the two Black Fire Department employees who sued last year.

While at Station 6, the firefighter said he was asked about his HIV status by a supervisor more than once and called derogatory epithets. He also claimed that a photograph in which he appeared in a rainbow pride sticker was vandalized in the Sanchez Street firehouse, with one firefighter telling him, “We don’t want that picture in here.”

He later became a recruiter, but was told the shift to administrative duties would require a pay cut. Non-Black Fire Department employees doing similar work were given higher classifications and higher pay, the suit alleges.

Baraka reported discrimination to the city’s Department of Human Resources at least five times between 2003 and 2020 and filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the suit.

The lawsuit lists six Fire Department supervisors by name and alleges that the department was aware of the unfair treatment of Baraka and other Black employees, and failed to act.

Baraka did not return a request for comment. An automatic reply sent from his city email address to a Chronicle reporter said, " Keith Baraka is no longer the recruiter for the SFFD, he has returned to the field.”


(c)2021 the San Francisco Chronicle

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