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San Francisco Court Workers Protest Dress Code Crackdown

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Court employees protest outside San Francisco Superior Court on McAllister St. over stricter enforcement of the courthouse dress code.

Court employees protest outside San Francisco Superior Court on McAllister St. over stricter enforcement of the courthouse dress code, February 20, 2014. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Stricter enforcement of the employee dress code at San Francisco Superior Court has led to harassment and bullying based on appearance, protesting workers said Thursday.

Employees who show up to the courthouse dressed unprofessionally have been written up, and sometimes sent home to change, after being put on notice in December that casual attire on the clock would no longer be tolerated.

That’s led to complaints that rules are being applied inconsistently, with outfits acceptable one week being subject to discipline the next week, said Jean Tualla, a court clerk at the McAllister Street courthouse.

“I feel so anxious, like am I going to get an e-mail? Is someone going to come into the courtroom? Am I going to be approached in front of all these people? Am I going to be sent home again?” she said.

Tualla and other members of the Service Employees International Union rallied outside the courthouse, filling Civic Center with chants of “don’t hate, we look great.”

The SEIU organized the protest after filing allegations of harassment, bullying and intimidation with the Public Employment Relations Board.

Tualla conceded that some employees had often come to work in hoodies and blue jeans, a culture that court spokeswoman Anna Donlan said violates the terms of a dress code adopted in 1996 but sometimes loosely enforced.

“The culture of the court had become that it was okay in some instances for people, for some individuals, to come to court in less than professional dress, and that’s unacceptable,” Donlan said.

That dress code calls for a professional appearance at all times, prohibiting beachwear and other kinds of casual dress.

While the protest might resonate with tech workers on the other side of Market Street accustomed to more casual office environments, flip flops send a different message inside an otherwise staid courthouse.

“When you walk into a city building, you want things to look like they’re getting done,” said KCBS and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Phil Matier.

Matier said the tech industry’s generational shift about what is appropriate to wear to the office collided with the public’s perception of how public employees fulfilling official government functions should conduct themselves.

“There’s a PR element there. You are greeting the public.”

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