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Firefighter targeted with ‘nightmarish’ homophobic, racist bullying because he put a rainbow sticker on his helmet

Emma Powys Maurice January 27, 2021
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Longtime firefighter Keith Baraka is claiming unlawful workplace discrimination (Facebook/Keith Baraka)

A veteran firefighter is suing the City of San Francisco claiming he faced years of harassment and discrimination for being Black and gay.

Keith Baraka, 53, says he was repeatedly denied promotions and subjected to racist epithets in his 23 years serving the San Francisco Fire Department.

Much of the alleged harassment took place in Station 6, a fire station in the Castro District, where he says he experienced “a nightmarish series of events” after he put a rainbow Pride sticker on his helmet.

Baraka claimed that a photo of him with the rainbow sticker was vandalised in the Sanchez Street firehouse, with one firefighter telling him: “We don’t want that picture in here.”

He also said he was asked about his HIV status by a supervisor more than once and called derogatory names while at Station 6.

Baraka described his locker being repeatedly broken into with his belongings stolen or destroyed; when he entered the firehouse kitchen and greeted the “non-black” occupants, “they would all stand up and leave”.

His lawsuit, which lists six Fire Department supervisors by name, alleges that leadership were fully aware of the “rampant discrimination” yet failed to act against it.

It notes that Baraka filed six separate complaints of discrimination with the city’s Human Resources department between 2003 and 2020, and also filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, yet no action was taken.

The firefighter says his complaints to station leadership led to retaliation against him, including the denial of promotions and other employment opportunities within the department.

He later became a recruiter, but was told the shift to administrative duties would require a pay cut. Non-Black fire department employees doing similar work were given higher classifications and higher pay, the suit alleges.

The City disputes the claims and has refused to comment publicly on the case.

 

Related topics: firefighter, lawsuit, San Francisco, workplace discrimination

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