SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – A lawsuit filed by two Black women who work for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department accuses their employer ordering them to be silent while at work in retaliation for claims of racial discrimination.
“I was not to talk to anyone in our office,” said Kim Lee, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department. “‘Come to work, do your job, and just leave,’” she said she was told by her supervisor.
Lee and Danielle Dillard, who has been with the department for 19 years, both work in the Warrants Division.
According to their lawsuit, their supervisors gave both women letters called ‘cease and desist orders’ in March of 2019, which said the women could “not communicate with employees in the unit.”
The women said their supervisors also told them they could not talk to any other employees of the city and county of San Francisco, according to the lawsuit.
“So I just didn’t talk to nobody,” said Lee. “I’d sometimes cry at my desk because I want to talk to my friends. Those people were my friends and I couldn’t talk to my friends.”
The lawsuit accuses the city of racial harassment, retaliation and failure to prevent discrimination and harassment.
Angela Alioto, the attorney for the women and a former San Francisco Supervisor, said the suit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court, Monday afternoon.
“I don’t know how they have made it this long, all those months without being able to speak and the frustration being so horrible that they literally would cry on their lunch break or they would cry, you know, when they go home all night because they’re under these strict, oppressive rules not to speak. It’s crazy!” Alioto said.
“For them to tell me I could no longer speak, it bothered me a lot,” said Dillard. “It tore me down on the inside. It affected my home life. I didn’t know how to explain it to my children. It broke me down. It made me a shell of a person.”
Both women allege the trouble started after each of them separately complained about racial disparities in the workplace. Each of them say they were told by a supervisor not to bring, “that monkey junk.”
The women said they tried to raise the attention of their chain of command to argue their treatment was unfair, but to no avail, according to the lawsuit.
Dillard was reassigned twice before she was ordered to just be quiet.
San Francisco City Attorney spokesperson John Coté said, “We have not been served with this lawsuit. We will review it at that time and address it in court.”
Meanwhile, both women said they still go to work every day to a miserable experience.
“I’ll go to my desk and when I know the lieutenant is coming in the morning, I hide at my desk with my hood on my head,” said Lee. “I do that every single day. I wear a coat with a hood on it. So in the morning, I can hide until it’s time for me to leave.”
The lawsuit seeks damages against the city and county of San Francisco.
Alioto said she also wants the Sheriff’s Department to immediately stop its practice of forcing employees to be silent in the workplace.