A jury awarded more than $1 million to Danielle Dillard and Kim Lee, two San Francisco Sheriff’s Department (SFSD) clerks, after a four-week trial that ended this month. The jury sided with the plaintiffs on their allegations of being targeted and subjected to racial harassment by white employees.
They found that the SFSD had failed to adequately look into their allegations that white employees had subjected them to a hostile work environment.
The women filed a lawsuit against the agency in 2020, alleging violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Angela Alioto, lead trial counsel for the case, told KQED, “It’s such a great victory that this jury saw right through the city’s pretexts and saw the insidious racism that is at different offices throughout the city, but specifically in this case at the sheriff’s office. The hatred that is racism has no place in San Francisco.”
The women work as clerks at the SFSD, where they process warrants for criminal suspects at the sheriff’s office. Dilliard and Lee claimed they were subjected to blatantly racist language and other workplace discrimination on multiple occasions, as well as retaliation.
During a press conference, the two black women detailed their experiences. Dilliard said, “My family was accused of being gang members. It was overwhelming.”
Another time, a supervisor by the name of Sgt. Phyllis Washington called Dillard a “monkey”. The plaintiffs’ attorneys also stated that a noose was once displayed in the workplace. Dillard, who also served as a union shop steward, alerted the authorities to the predicament facing her and the other union members. However, in response to her complaints, the department gave Dillard a cease-and-desist order to stop communicating with personnel in her unit, according to the legal records.
Lee, on the other hand, said she faced retaliation for requesting a leave of absence and was accused of attempting to steal information. A supervisor also referred to her as a monkey, and her employer threatened to fire her for raising concerns about the workplace. She was also served with a cease-and-desist order.
“They called me a thief, a liar, and a criminal. It really hurt. I had endured so much before, and I just continued to sweep it underneath the rug,” she said.
She was also asked to change her physical appearance, including her hairstyle. She said, “It was excruciating for me because I had to shave my head. They didn’t want me to color my hair, which I had been coloring for over 20 years. It was very emotional for me.”
The jury unanimously voted to award the plaintiffs $1,139,400, with Dillard receiving $523,400 and Lee receiving $616,000; both women will continue to work for the department.
After the verdict, Lee said, “I’m happy I can move on. I can build myself back up, and I know I don’t ever have to be silenced on any job nowhere else.”
The Sheriff’s Department, in a joint statement with the city attorney, stated their commitment to addressing harassing behavior, saying, “As one of the most diverse sheriff’s departments in the nation that values equity and inclusion, any form of harassment or discriminatory behavior is antithetical to our values. We are surprised and disappointed by the outcome of this case and will be working with the City Attorney’s Office to evaluate any next steps.”
Alioto, the counsel for the case, shared her intentions to take up similar cases in other city departments. She said, “This is a wake-up call. The floodgates are open. Black people are treated so badly in each and every city department. Underpaid, less shift changes, less overtime, less sick time, for the same job just because you’re black.”