Nicol Juratovac, an assistant chief and 23-year veteran in the San Francisco Fire Department, this month filed a claim against San Francisco alleging retaliation and discrimination — a potential precursor to suing the city.
Years of complaints that the fire department was “weaponizing its disciplinary investigative system against me in a retaliatory manner” led Juratovac in 2019 to file a complaint with the city’s Department of Human Resources. But this move, itself, took a turn for the surreal: The investigator on Juratovac’s case, Rebecca Sherman, later admitted to forging a $514,000 settlement with another aggrieved city worker.
A trove of text messages and emails obtained last year by Mission Local reveals that Sherman was similarly dishonest with Juratovac.
Sherman, for months in 2020, led an increasingly desperate Juratovac to believe that the investigation into her allegations of a hostile workplace was complete, and a determination letter favorable to Juratovac would be presented to her in a matter of days — if not hours.
This letter was never delivered. In fact, it was all but certainly never written: The Department of Human Resources subsequently claimed that Sherman’s investigation was never completed — and Juratovac’s lawyers say that the city is refusing to turn over whatever material Sherman did generate.
As early as August of 2020, Juratovac repeatedly informed then-Department of Human Resources director Micki Callahan of disturbing behavior and factual misrepresentations being made by Sherman. No action was apparently taken. Six weeks later, Callahan sent out a near-citywide email alleging “corruption” in her own department and labeling Sherman a “rogue employee.”
Since late last year, the Department of Human Resources “has dropped off the map,” says Therese Cannata, an attorney for Juratovac. “We’ve asked for whatever they have, pertaining to our client, that belonged to Rebecca Sherman. There has not been a response. We’ve asked for Sherman’s lawyer’s phone number. They won’t even give us that.”
Callahan’s depiction of Sherman as a bad apple rankled HR directors in departments across the city. Several pushed back, telling Mission Local that complaints they had submitted on behalf of workers alleging racial discrimination had been altered by the central Department of Human Resources to remove elements of racial or other animus — and merely presented the workers as disgruntled.
Since 2014, Juratovac has been the subject of seven disciplinary investigations. The firefighter and her attorneys claim the department is repeatedly targeting the highest-ranked Asian LGBTQ woman in its history due to Juratovac’s complaints and whistle-blowing regarding cheating on promotional exams and safety issues.
Juratovac also says she made few friends by blowing the whistle on “a division commander who failed to report drinking that was occurring at one of his stations, something that I ended up reporting that resulted in actual findings of alcohol being consumed and cocaine present in a member’s system.”
She took her grievances to the Department of Human Resources in October, 2019, regarding these purportedly trumped-up disciplinary charges; in January, 2020, Sherman was assigned to investigate.
As early as May of last year, Sherman indicated to Juratovac, in writing, that a determination letter was forthcoming — one that would be favorable to Juratovac.
By summer of 2020, Sherman had written a litany of emails and texts to Juratovac, indicating the determination letter’s delivery was imminent. But, always, an unexpected malady delayed its production: These included relatives falling ill or dying; tropical storms inducing blackouts; myriad technical glitches or even Sherman’s phone purportedly being dropped in the sink.
Finally, in late July, Sherman wrote to Juratovac that the completed letter had been sent to Callahan for the department head’s requisite signature, and could be ready in “an hour max.”
As noted earlier, that letter was never produced. In August, Juratovac contacted Callahan directly. In these emails, Juratovac states that Sherman says the letter had been submitted to Callahan, who had signed it — but had not yet delivered it to Juratovac.
“I am on duty today,” Juratovac wrote on Aug. 5, “and fear that any continued delay such as this will perpetuate more retaliation, harassment, and trauma that I have been suffering from.”
Callahan on Aug. 17 wrote back that she had not received any letter, let alone signed it — directly contradicting Sherman’s written claims.
And, inexplicably, that was that: Callahan simply stated there was no letter —after her subordinate had indicated repeatedly, in writing, that there was one, and Callahan had signed it.
A little over a month later, Callahan was writing off Sherman as a “rogue employee” and serial liar. But Juratovac’s emails reveal that Sherman’s alleged misrepresentations — including misrepresentations about actions undertaken by her boss, Callahan — were weeks earlier being reported directly to her boss, Callahan.
Callahan expedited a planned retirement and left city employment in early October. Sherman’s direct supervisor, Equal Employment Opportunity director Linda Simon, in October took a three-month medical leave and retired at its conclusion.
As no official legal action has yet been taken against the city, the City Attorney deferred comment to the Fire Department.
“The City and the Fire Department take equal employment issues seriously. We are committed to fostering a welcoming, inclusive workplace free of discrimination or harassment based on race, gender, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic,” said Lt. Jonathan Baxter in a statement. “We are also committed to a workplace free of retaliation for any protected activity. As this involves a personnel matter, we are unable to comment on it at this time.”
Cannata said her client continues to show up to work every day.
“She’s an assistant chief. She’s assigned to Station No. 7,” Cannata said. “She wants to do her job and hopes that, while this matter is pending, her right to do her job will be respected.”
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