Bay Area air-quality agency a discriminatory ‘old boys club’: lawsuit

Racism, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ harassment permeated the public agency responsible for controlling pollution in the Bay Area, a pair of new, related lawsuits claims.

Two former managers accuse the Bay Area Air Quality Management District of operating “a hostile and discriminatory ‘old boys club’ where heterosexual, White men are in charge, while others are deprived of equal opportunities and treatment.”

Terri Levels and Stephen “Rex” Sanders contend in their lawsuits that the district fired them for pushing back against discrimination at the agency. Both lawsuits were filed this week in San Francisco County Superior Court by the same law firm, and contain many similar claims.

In response, the district said the lawsuits contained misleading and false claims, though it did not respond to the specific allegations. “The Air District works to foster an inclusive culture and we view diversity as one of our greatest strengths,” the district said in a statement. “Once all the facts are known, we fully expect to prevail in this matter and remain committed to upholding the highest standards of professionalism and fairness for all our employees.”

The district regulates stationary sources of air pollution in the nine Bay Area counties, from fireplaces to oil refineries.

Levels worked at the district’s San Francisco office from 2007 until this April, starting as a human resources intern and working her way up to HR officer, becoming the first Black woman to occupy that position at director level, according to her lawsuit filed Thursday.

Her lawsuit claims she and other women of color were excluded from meetings directly related to their jobs by White, heterosexual executives and district officers. It also accused executive and officers of exhibiting “extreme hostility” toward her, other people of color, and LGBTQ workers, including screaming, throwing items and slamming items on desks.

Additionally, Levels said executives assigned her job duties to unqualified White, heterosexual men, and paid the men more, and when she complained to an executive about an officer’s racist and sexist harassment, the executive assigned the same officer to investigate her complaint, her lawsuit alleges.

At the district, “The darker an individual’s complexion was,” her lawsuit claimed, “the more severe the discriminatory conduct towards them tended to be.”

Sanders, described in their lawsuit as “openly LGBTQIA+,” and using they/them pronouns, started at the district in 2006 as an HR analyst, advancing to a position of chief administrative officer, which they held until they were fired in January of this year, according to the lawsuit. For almost the entirety of Sanders’ time at the district, a handful of executive-level colleagues harassed and discriminated against them, their lawsuit filed Wednesday claimed.

Sanders, who was Levels’ supervisor, made the same claims in their lawsuit about exclusion from meetings and extreme, hostile behavior, and contended they were passed over for a promotion in favor of a less-qualified, heterosexual White man.

An executive involved in investigating Level’s discrimination complaint referred to a photo of Sanders’ son and another man and suggested they were “gay boyfriends,” Sanders’ lawsuit alleges. That executive also mocked the facial hair of a Jewish board member, saying she looked like Hitler, Sanders’ lawsuit claims.

The lawsuits also describe a profane racist epithet used against a Black female security officer, a comment about how a female executive looked in her clothing, and the regular reference of a Latina employee as “coquettish.” When a female employee complained about “the aggression of the white, heterosexual men in the office, an executive said she needed to “wear her big girl panties,” the lawsuits allege.

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁

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