These consolidated cases involved challenges to a gender-based staffing policy of the San Francisco Sheriff's Department. The Sheriff reorganized inmate housing in mid-2006 in San Francisco so that all female inmates were placed in County Jail #8 in female-only housing units. Since October 2006 forward, the Sheriff implemented a policy that only female deputies be assigned to staff these particular units.
The first of the consolidated cases, Ambat v. City and County of San Francisco, was filed in 2007. The second case, Walker, was filed in 2008. The third, Ortega, was filed in 2009. All involved sheriff's deputies who alleged that the Sheriff's staffing policy constituted employment discrimination in violation of Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. (Several of the plaintiffs also brought retaliation claims.) They were consolidated in 2009. After consolidation, on February 17, 2010, the Court granted summary judgment on almost all of the plaintiffs' claims. 2010 WL 934006.
In her opinion, Judge Susan Illston held that the policy was implemented to protect the interests that amount to the essences of the Sheriff's business and the Sheriff was entitled to deference in his policy judgment to implement department policy. Further, the policy was found to be reasonably necessary to ensure the normal operation of the jails and the alternatives to the policy were not feasible alternatives that furthered the overarching objectives of safety, security and privacy. The deputy was found to have exhausted administrative remedies for the retaliation claim and the denial of transfer requests by the deputy was not a form of retaliation. Finally, the fact that the deputy made certain statements was a legitimate, and non-retaliatory reason to terminate the deputy. These statements were made to the National Academy of Arbitrators and involved content that the sheriff was influenced by financial contributions and nepotism, and that the sheriff's general counsel had engaged in sex tourism.
The Court denied summary judgment on retaliation claims brought by three of the plaintiffs. These plaintiffs alleged that the defendant retaliated against them by reprimanding them for complaining that the policy constituted gender discrimination and for participating in this lawsuit.
The parties then agreed, three weeks before trial was scheduled to commence, to continue in order to enter into settlement negotiations on the remaining claims. A settlement conference was held with Chief Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James on June 8 and 10, 2010, and everyone agreed that the parties had settled the case. The agreement was read into the record, and the Court entered an order dismissing the case with prejudice upon settlement.
On May 27, 2011, the Court heard argument on competing motions filed by the parties: a motion for entry of judgment filed by plaintiffs and a motion to enforce the settlement agreement filed by the defendants. The parties disagreed over the terms of the aforementioned settlement. The Court granted each motion in part and denied in part. The Court granted plaintiff's request that it enter judgment, but only after the parties signed a written settlement agreement. The Court then granted the defendant's request that the parties be ordered to execute a written settlement agreement. The parties continued to disagree over attorney's fees and other costs, and on July 5, 2012, the Court awarded each party costs on the part of the case they had won: plaintiffs received $3,239.80 in costs, and defendants $48,330.72.
The settlement consisted of the City of San Francisco revising its previously published list and policy listing places for which an employee can complain regarding harassment, retaliation and whistleblowing. The City will also prepare and publish a new list and statement permitting complaints outside the chain of command for an employee to be distributed to each Sheriff's Department employee. Further, the City will work with the plaintiffs to determine which pieces of paper exist in their personally files related to this suit. There were further individualized claims settled with the plaintiffs relating to their retaliation claims.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion from July 2, 2014, held that the county was not entitled to summary judgment based on bona fide occupational defense, in light of the fact issue as to whether there was a reasoned decision making process that led to the sheriff's adoption of the policy. Second, the Ninth Circuit found that the county easily met its burden of demonstrating that there were job qualifications derived from four justifications of safety, security, privacy and rehabilitation that were reasonably necessary to operating the county jails. Further, the Ninth Circuit found that fact issues existed as to whether the policy of excluding male deputies because of their sex was a legitimate proxy for reasonably necessary job qualifications. Finally, the Ninth Circuit held that plaintiffs could not establish prejudice from the district court's evidentiary rulings, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorneys fees, and the county was entitled to summary judgment on terminated deputy's retaliation claims. The lower court's holdings were affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part and the appeal dismissed in part. Christina Bonanni - 07/13/2014