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Ex-employee sues Coalition on Homelessness, alleges discrimination

A person looks on at a public meeting.
Kelley Cutler, right, claims that she was forced to quit her job at the Coalition on Homelessness as a result of the discrimination and harassment she faced. | Source: Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

A former employee with San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness alleges that she was discriminated against, falsely accused of making “white supremacist comments” and forced to quit in a new lawsuit against the nonprofit.

In a complaint filed in San Francisco County Superior Court on Friday, Kelley Cutler, who worked for the coalition from 2016 until 2022, said she was diagnosed with PTSD due to the sensitive nature of her work as a human rights organizer and that Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach disclosed her condition to coworkers without her consent.

Cutler alleged that Friedenbach sent “harassing text messages” insisting that she come to work despite her condition. She said she was effectively forced to quit as a result of the discrimination and harassment she allegedly faced.

Cutler also claimed that the coalition did not provide adequate breaks, did not record her hours worked as required by the California Labor Code, did not pay her overtime as required and failed to appropriately reimburse her for mileage.

The lawsuit names the coalition and Friedenbach as defendants. Cutler is seeking unspecified damages and back pay she says she is owed for working overtime.

When reached for comment Sunday, Friedenbach told The Standard that neither she nor the coalition had seen the lawsuit and that she could not comment on personnel issues.

“I can say I care a lot for Ms. Cutler, and the organization does as well,” Friedenbach said. “In addition, staff conflicts are not uncommon in any organization, especially post-pandemic.”

Cutler did not respond to The Standard’s request for comment.

In the complaint, Cutler alleged that during two meetings in late May 2022 to discuss the potential hire of another human rights advocate, Friedenbach stated she would be hiring an applicant “due to the candidate’s African American and female characteristics,” causing Cutler to question the legality of the hiring process.

The complaint also alleges that Friedenbach made false statements about Cutler and says Friedenbach accused Cutler of making “white supremacist comments.”

The lawsuit comes amid the ongoing litigation between the coalition and the city of San Francisco. The coalition has accused local officials of illegally destroying encampments and violating legal precedent in displacing homeless people without providing alternate shelter.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review Johnson v. Grants Pass, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision recognizing the right of unhoused people to camp in public spaces when shelter space is not available.

Citing the pending Supreme Court case, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu filed a motion last month requesting that the federal court pause proceedings in the coalition’s case until the Supreme Court weighs in on the Grants Pass case.