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Fired top-level city official alleges gender discrimination, harassment

A former top-level city official is threatening to sue the city of Oakland following her abrupt firing in January, a letter from her attorneys says.

Sarai Crain, who was deputy chief of the Department of Violence Prevention, is alleging she was not paid equally for the work she was doing. She is also alleging gender discrimination, retaliation and harassment.

In a March 25 demand letter to the city from her attorneys, Crain is seeking to settle the issue for $268,104 along with reinstatement and promotion to chief of the Department of Violence Prevention. Currently Guillermo Cespedes is the chief of the department.

Vice Mayor and City Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan said in a statement:

“It is essential to end all acts of discrimination by this administration — and these allegations of misconduct and pay disparity — and alleged retaliation — warrant a direct response, investigation, and remedy.” 

Kaplan said:

“The decisions that are the subject of this alleged misconduct never came to the City Council. … Since the City Council voted to fund a Deputy Chief of Violence Prevention, and never authorized eliminating that position. I urge that we schedule this issue to Council directly.”

The City Council’s Rules and Legislation Committee has asked that the full council consider a resolution to authorize an independent investigation into Crain’s firing. The committee is also asking the council to settle the case.

Both items may go before the full council on April 19.

Crain was fired on Jan. 21. She began work as deputy chief of the Department of Violence Prevention on June 29, 2020.

City Administrator Ed Reiskin, who made the decision to fire Crain, said:

“The City of Oakland’s administration takes harassment and other forms of discrimination seriously.”

Reiskin added:

“I do not condone discrimination in any form; this administration is proudly anti-racist; dedicated to lifting up Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous women and men and other people of color; and committed to justice. And this administration is zealously engaged in efforts to end systemic racism and promote equity at all levels and in all forms.”

The city continues to stand behind its decision and Cespedes, Reiskin said.

Attorneys for Crain allege in the letter that Cespedes interfered with her work. Also, in the letter, Crain’s attorneys allege Cespedes used homophobic language and that he was bullying, dismissive and yelled at her.

The letter also says Crain learned in July 2021 that a male employee who did equal and similar work was getting paid about $30,000 more each year than she was. Crain raised the issue with Cespedes, according to the letter.

He allegedly said that he couldn’t understand why unequal pay was “offensive,” the letter says.

Crain was fired eight days after bringing the issue up with Cespedes for the last time and three days after speaking with human resources about it, according to the letter.

City Councilmember Carroll Fife said in a statement:

“It’s important to look into the claims being made in this matter so we avoid perpetuating a practice of diminishing talented, experienced women, particularly women of color, in leadership positions.”

In a statement, City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said:

“These claims are deeply troubling and must be investigated and resolved immediately.” 

City Council Pro Tem Sheng Thao also issued a statement on the issue, saying:

“These allegations are incredibly serious and must be investigated thoroughly. … The gender pay gap is very real and persistent in this country.”

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