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Union alleges retaliation for exposing San Francisco public corruption scandal

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — A San Francisco local union filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city and county of San Francisco, alleging retaliation for whistleblowers related to public corruption.

The 37-page lawsuit filed Wednesday by International Workers Union Local 261 alleges in part gender discrimination and retaliation based on exposing public corruption.

“What they did was hire their friends in certain categories, and then when they hired their friends, their friends awarded the contracts to nonprofits, even in other cities, that should have go to the workers of Local 261,” attorney Angela Alioto said.

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The lawsuit claims that the leadership of Local 261 exposed the public corruption scandal that is now the subject of ongoing FBI investigation, which resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of several people, including the director of the public works department Mohammed Nuru who pleaded guilty, and then the city targeted members of Local 261. Retaliation, according to the lawsuit, included denying workers access to the baths or handwashing facilities, which had a disproportionate impact on women.

“I begged everyone in town to give the workers a bathroom, but they didn’t, and they’re among the lowest-paid workers,” plaintiff Theresa Foglio-Ramirez said.

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The lawsuit alleges in or around January 2019, Vincent Courtney, who represented Local 261 and the Public Utilities Commission, filed a formal whistleblower complaint against the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, alleging retaliation and intimidation. and detailing corruption. Additionally, Courtney filed her complaint with the City Comptroller’s Office.

“The checks and balances at the SF comptroller’s office and the city attorney’s office have really failed the public here, failed the community workforce here,” said former SFPUC commissioner Vincent Courtney.

The lawsuit seeks, in part, access to hygienic and safe restrooms and hand-washing facilities as well as damages.

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A spokesperson for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office told ABC7 News, “The city is committed to rooting out corruption wherever it exists. Once we receive the lawsuit, we will review it and We will answer in court.”

John Cote, spokesperson for SFPUC, said: “The allegations in this lawsuit relating to SFPUC allegedly occurred under the previous leadership, which would have been under the watch of Vince Courtney while he was Commissioner of SFPUC. As has been publicly reported, Courtney resigned as commissioner after voting to direct public funds to a program run by her union, which presented a clear conflict of interest.”

A spokesman for the Department of Public Works said: “We are not going to comment on specific allegations which are the subject of active litigation, but to be very clear: Public Works does not retaliate or discriminate against our employees.”

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