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Federal Lawsuit Accusing City of Whistleblower Retaliation Partially Moves Ahead

Written by Annie GausUpdated at Jul. 13, 2022 • 4:04pmPublished Jul. 13, 2022 • 2:10pm
An exterior of San Francisco’s City Hall along Franklin Street on March 14, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

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A federal lawsuit that accuses city departments of retaliating against union workers who played a role in reporting corrupt practices is partially moving forward, according to a new ruling.

In a July 6 ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler rejected much of an earlier motion by the city to dismiss the claims. The suit describes a systematic campaign of harassment and retribution against members of Laborers Union Local 261, a union representing city laborers whose work spans gardening, sanitation and street cleaning. 

Theresa Foglio-Ramirez, left, and Juan Rivera, right, both Laborers Union Local 261 members, said they blew the whistle on corruption at the Public Utilities Commission and Department of Public Works and reported the activity to the U.S. Department of Justice. Courtesy Laborers Union Local 261

Filed in February 2022, the original complaint alleges that Juan Rivera and Theresa Foglio-Ramirez, both Local 261 members, blew the whistle on a pattern of corruption at the Public Utilities Commission and Department of Public Works and reported the activity to the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ ultimately indicted several city officials, contractors or employees in an ongoing corruption probe

Top department heads, including former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and former City Administrator Naomi Kelly, allegedly facilitated a pattern of intimidation and retaliation that included ongoing denial of basic work amenities such as sufficient restrooms, sanitary products and personal protective equipment for Local 261 workers. Rivera was also improperly demoted, according to the complaint. 

In its motion to dismiss, the city argued that the union lacks the legal standing for much of the claims, and the judge agreed with some but not all of the city’s arguments.

Beeler ruled that the lawsuit’s claims of gender discrimination and retaliation can advance, but wrote that it lacks the standing to seek monetary damages on behalf of its members. Both sides described the ruling as a victory.

Attorneys at the Law Offices of Mayor Joseph L. Alioto and Angela Alioto, who represent Laborers Union Local 261, expect to move ahead with claims for injunctive and declaratory relief in the coming weeks. 

“Our clients will prepare diligently to show why the City must be accountable for its actions against them and other hardworking and loyal City employees,” said attorney Jordanna Thigpen, counsel at the Alioto law firm, in a statement.

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The City Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, cheered the court’s partial dismissal as a positive development and said that it had “significantly pared back” some of the claims.

“We are pleased the Court granted the City important relief in ruling on its motion to dismiss,” said Jen Kwart, a spokesperson at the City Attorney.  

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Annie Gaus can be reached at [email protected]


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