One of San Francisco’s top transit officials is facing a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment over a number of years.

The lawsuit, filed last Friday in San Francisco Superior Court, accuses John Haley, director of transit, who oversees the operations of Muni, that he inappropriately touched Sabrina Suzuki, who works as a senior management assistant for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Haley has worked as the director of transit for the SFMTA since 2010 and worked previously as the general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation.

Ching Wong/SFBay

SFMTA Director of Transit John Haley gives a tour of the new bus maintenance facility at Islais Creek in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, June 15, 2018.

Suzuki alleges in the lawsuit that not only did Haley inappropriately touch her on a number of occasions, but also belittled her during meetings in front of her colleagues and denied her promotions because she was a woman.

She began working as a public information officer for the transit agency in February 2013 and reported to Haley and the SFMTA’s media relations manager, Paul Rose. Suzuki was later promoted to the senior management assistant position in December 2014 and reported directly to Haley.

The lawsuit said Haley has made inappropriate comments to Suzuki and unwelcome advances since she began her employment with the SFMTA.

Beginning around January 2015 through October 2017, Haley would ask Suzuki for help with a computer issue at least once a month.

While performing the requested task, Haley would remain at his chair and Suzuki would stand in front Haley while he would lean in against her and would invade her personal space “…in such a manner that he was touching her,” the lawsuit says.

During another incident in May 2016, Haley asked about the pants Suzuki was wearing and told her to turn around to let him see.

The lawsuit reads that Suzuki did a half quick turn as to end the conversation with Haley but Haley placed his hand on the back Suzuki’s thigh which stopped her from continuing to turn so that her backside would be in his direct view and continued to touch her.

At a work happy hour event on Nov. 7, 2017, Suzuki said Haley walked up to her and grabbed her drink without her consent and took sip from her drink. The lawsuit reads that Haley said:

“Mmm. That’s pretty good.”

The lawsuit says there was another incident at a work event in 2016:

“Defendant Haley engaged in the same conduct back in 2016 at a work event. Each time, Plaintiff felt belittled and powerless as if Defendant Haley was making her as his property and under his control.”

The lawsuit also reads that Haley often sexualized Suzuki as a woman, often referring to her male colleagues as her “boyfriends” and has asked her to get her “boyfriend” on the phone when Haley needed to contact one of her male colleagues:

“These types of comments were offensive to Plaintiff because Defendant HALEY suggested that Plaintiff has multiple boyfriends through the department, which made Plaintiff feel objectified.”

Suzuki attempted to ask Haley for a promotion from her current position to the transit regulatory manager position in 2017 as she was already performing many duties of the job, including preparing triennial audits from the California Public Utilities Commission and the Federal Transit Administration.

Haley did not give her the promotion and instead promoted a male college who was not qualified for the position, Suzuki alleges.

Julie Kirshbaum, who works in SFMTA’s Transit Division, told Suzuki that Haley gave the job to someone else and that she did not get the promotion because Haley had said “you’re too nice.”

The lawsuit says Haley’s decision to not give Suzuki the promotion was not based on her performance or qualifications, but on the perception that Suzuki “was weak as a woman.”

Suzuki did file a harassment claim against Haley with The City’s Department of Human Resources through the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Division (EEO) on Nov. 8, 2017, according to the lawsuit but it was dismissed with insufficient evidence.

Since filing the complaint, Haley has retaliated against Suzuki by refusing to speak to Suzuki, not giving her any direction and excluding from her meetings and conference calls that she normally would attend.

Suzuki no longer performs the duties she had previously performed for Haley and does not take any direction from him anymore.

In the lawsuit, Suzuki is seeking commentary and punitive damages, including lost back pay with interest, lost fringe benefits and future lost earnings lost equity and damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering.

Rose said in statement:

“We take these matters very seriously and follow the city’s EEO procedures to address personnel matters like these. While these allegations are serious, it would not be appropriate to comment any further on legal matters involving personnel. The City Attorney’s Office is taking the lead on this case.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to jerold@sfbay.ca.

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