8 health department employees file discrimination suit against San Francisco

Eight long time employees who work for the San Francisco Department of Public Health are suing the city for racial discrimination.

The plaintiffs are Black women. They say after years of unfair treatment, now is the time for them to take the necessary action to bring about changes.

"We've been discriminated against time and time again. We've gone to the powers to be. And no one, it's fallen on deaf ears," says Cheryl Thornton, an eligibility supervisor. She says she's been with the department since 1991.

Thornton is among the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed against the city of San Francisco.

All are current employees with the Department of Public Health.

"We work hard. Give us what we deserve. Just to get what we deserve-we have to fight for that too?" says Rachell Evans, a health worker who works with the homeless.

The plaintiffs' complaints include denial of necessary training, training opportunities and promotions.

"It's the norm and this has to be changed. If we get people to acknowledge that it exists, that's an opening for change," says Jo-Theresa Elia-Jackson who works in the IT department at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

She says she applied five times for promotional opportunities and was refused each time even though she had the qualifications. 

The plaintiffs say they want a level playing field.

"Get people out that's undercover racist. Get them out of there," says Dellfinia Hardy, a nurse at the county jail.

The women have rallied at City Hall, served on committees formed by the city to address discrimination and unfair labor practices. But they say nothing's changed.

"I'm traumatized every time I see somebody they hire is somebody's friend or family member. It's all a club," says Kim Lynch, a substance abuse counselor.  

The plaintiffs say they complain, they're harassed, retaliated against, and called angry Black women. 

"I'm compassionate about what I'm doing. It has nothing to do with anger but we get labeled that," says Lynch.

In response to the lawsuit, the City Attorney’s Office wrote: "The city works diligently to prevent discrimination in the workplace and is keenly focused on racial equity. But we’re not going to litigate cases in the press. We’ll address these allegations in court."

"How do you mistreat people who are so loyal," says Angela Alioto, the plaintiffs' attorney.

She says the women's years of employment with the Department of Public Health total 199 years.

Plaintiff Brenda Barros is a chief clerk and has worked for the city for 42 years. At 66, she's not ready to retire.

"I will fight to the end so that they can't do that to somebody else," says Barros.  

Attorney Alioto says a judge was assigned to the case Thursday.

She hopes it will go to a jury trial in 12 to 14 months.