‘Ronnie Jones Press Release’ – February 9, 2021
Ronnie Jones did not expect that he would have to give up a promising career as a paramedic when he finally decided he could not live his life fully as a female. He had been committed to emergency care long before he was hired in 2006 by the SF Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS). San Francisco City and County and the State of California have innumerable laws that prevent employment discrimination and protect transgender individuals, but if the City doesn’t care, the laws are merely political fig leaf.
Ronnie has been committed to paramedical practice since he overcame homelessness as a teenage woman with a child. He was passionate about pursuing the skills he would need to help people. He obtained the credentials he would need to become a paramedic which was no easy task for a homeless black woman, yet he worked tirelessly and obtained his certification. He has scrupulously maintained and updated that certification in every area where paramedics can possibly excel.
His proudest moment was when he joined the ranks of paramedics at Station 49, the operational hub of EMS. He did so as an LGBTQ woman and worked well until he transitioned to male, when he suddenly encountered obstacles he had not anticipated, not just pronouns and language slurs, but actual physical violence from his fellow employees and a complete blind eye from Department leaders and the City leaders.
In June of 2013 Ronnie was chosen to be a Field Evaluator, a role that requires in-depth familiarity with SFFD rules and regulations as well as paramedical practices and protocols. His job — to evaluate the performance of other paramedics and report his observations to the Department of Training — proceeded in the regular course of business.
In November of 2016, he was asked to train as a Rescue Captain in order to work relief shifts for the Rescue Captains, serving as a supervisor of the other rank-and-file paramedics. Until 2019, Ronnie worked two to three shifts per month as Rescue Captain.
Early in 2015 Ronnie felt obligated to share his status as a transgender man with his immediate supervisors at SFFD and disclosed that he would begin transitioning physically from female to male. In the spirit of full disclosure, he explained to EMS leadership that it would also entail: a change of name, the use of pronouns, the need to change from the women’s locker room to the men’s locker room as well as the men’s restroom and showers.
Ronnie recommended that there be a communication explaining the necessary changes be sent to the others at Station 49. EMS leadership concurred that it would be appropriate and agreed to discuss the matter with liaison of the Department of Human Resources (DHR). But DHR declined.
Ronnie was told to “just start using the men’s facilities: locker room, restroom and showers without any communication to the other workers at Station 49.” This failure to communicate added the element of surprise that creates a very hostile atmosphere.
Ronnie confided to his immediate superior, John Christy that “just showing up one day in the men’s locker room” after using the women’s for the proceeding eleven years was a set-up that would target him for potential harassment and put him in harm’s way. Christy told Ronnie that, despite Chief Zanoff’s support, DHR had the last word and that word was a resounding “NO.”
Accordingly, on April 7, 2017, Ronnie reported back to work after his medical leave and moved his locker from the women’s locker room to the men’s locker room.
Ronnie still felt uneasy and met with John Christy and Chief Zanoff on April 17th to update them on his legal name change, and again, he raised the issue of a letter communicating to fellow workers that he was transitioning, and he would now be using the men’s facilities and should be addressed with male pronouns. Chief Zanoff reiterated that DHR would not allow such a communication because it was “not needed.”
Chief Zanoff assured Ronnie that if he encountered any inappropriate problems, he should immediately report it to him.
It didn’t take long. In September, Ronnie was in the locker room getting ready for his shift when another paramedic came in and began mumbling to himself, but after a few minutes said out loud “Oh, f–k this shit. Now she has a locker in here now!” He eyed Ronnie maliciously as he walked out. Ronnie reported this encounter to Chief Zanoff.
Ronnie felt betrayed from leadership on October 3, 2017, when he asked the Rescue Captain why a paramedic, who was assigned to work with him had been reassigned to another shift without consulting him as was the usual procedure. Was this last-minute accommodation to avoid working with him (Ronnie)? The Captain said: “I am the Captain and I can make that change.” This incident was reported to Chief Zanoff.
But there was one particular fellow worker, Jonathan Halverson, who obviously felt entitled as a “real” man to put this trangender in his place. It June of 2019, when Ronnie tried to help Halverson — cautioning him that he could be “written up” for not wearing the proper uniform while on duty. Halverson, who was physically much larger, approached Ronnie, looming over him, he called Ronnie “Miss” in a heated altercation using “Misses,” and “Miss” several times in order to demean and humiliate him. When the others who were in the yard left, Halverson came back and physically assaulted Ronnie, attempting to grab him by the collar, which Ronnie deftly evaded. He reported the incident to Chief Tangherlini, EMD Chief of Operations and Chief Tong, Assistant Deputy Chief of EMS Division, who reported it to DHR.
But Ronnie felt vulnerable and exposed to physical attack as well as harassment from transphobic employees, even though DHR’s representative filed a complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO) outlining the Halverson incident. As feared, the inquiry into the complaint resulted merely in a cease-and-desist letter to Halverson. Of course, that was not the end of Halverson’s intimidation tactics. Little more than a week later, in the communal kitchen, Halverson glared belligerently as he approached Ronnie. Feeling a strong malignant threat, Ronnie left the room and reported it to the Rescue Captain on duty. DHR responded in a letter that it had “administratively closed” the complaint. No action was taken against Halverson, even though this was a violation of the cease and desist. Ronnie was not safe at the workplace.
“The conduct you reported, if true,” the letter from DHR informed Ronnie, “violated the City’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Policy, the City’s Gender Inclusion Policy, and the City’s Policy Regarding the Treatment of Co-Workers and Members of the Public (Respect Policy). Therefore, SFFD will take appropriate action to address Mr. Halverson’s alleged conduct, prevent any reoccurrence, and remind him retaliation is prohibited. This matter is deemed resolved, and DHR will administratively close your complaint without further investigation.”
Again, no action was taken when Halverson began stalking Ronnie on August 5th, staring intently as he followed him around the station in an attempt to intimidate him. On August 6th Halverson continued the same tactic. On August 14th Halverson followed Ronnie into the men’s locker room staring at him in the same harassing manner as he changed into his uniform. Halverson repeated these tactics on August 22nd and on August 30th. When Ronnie reported these hostile acts, no action was taken. Ronnie was notified that his complaint of Halverson’s retaliatory conduct was “administratively closed” and there would be no further investigation.
Ronnie completely lost confidence in DHR’s commitment to their own policies and decided to appeal the “administrative closure” to the Civil Service Commission which, on February 3, 2020 granted his appeal unanimously: “Granted Ronnie Jones’ appeal and directed the Human Resources Department to investigate the complaint as a whole. In addition, provide training at the San Francisco Fire Department Station 49.” (CSC minutes) The department continues to allow the hostile atmosphere and disparate treatment — notwithstanding the Civil Service Commission’s orders.
It was when Ronnie applied to become a permanent Rescue Captain (with higher salary) that he became aware of the threat that transphobia and racial discrimination would bear, and heavily, on his career as a paramedic. On February 5th he learned that someone who ranked lower than he did on the EMS Captain Eligible List was hired for the job, contrary to Civil Service Rule 313.2.1, and in spite of his superior performance on the tests that supposedly determined the winning candidate.
The discrimination then repeated. He learned on March 25th that another Rescue Captain position was temporarily opened. But then he learned that another person had been chosen for the position. Chief Pang e-mailed that this person, “once his training is complete,” would step into the vacancy. The individual selected was not yet trained, whereas Ronnie had completed the necessary training but was not hired to fill the vacancy. Instead of hiring a fully trained candidate, Chief Pang opted to hold the role open for someone else in order for them to get the training needed for the position. Ronnie Jones was denied fair and equal treatment and promotion opportunities at Station 49 continually.
In July of 2020 Chief of San Francisco Fire Department, Jeanine Nicholson admitted to the fact the SFFD has “failed to adequately recruit diverse candidates for employment.” And she admitted that barriers to promotion for minority members were “issues known to the management” when she became Chief. In fact, SFFD has “lost ground” on overcoming discrimination. Testifying to the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee on July 30, 2020 Chief Nicholson said: “we have lost ground from when we had our Consent Decree in place over 30 years ago. We have lost the majority of our African American chiefs in this department. Battalion chiefs, we have very few left, and we’ve lost a step in our recruitment, hiring and advancement.”
Notwithstanding the public hand-wringing from SFFD brass, the acts of discrimination based on gender identity continue unabated and Ronnie Jones continues to suffer a loss of salary and benefits as well as future earning capacity and retirement income. He suffers from disparate treatment every hour of the working day. He has been held up to great derision and embarrassment with fellow workers and the community, and he continues to suffer emotional distress because SFFD has demonstrated, time and again, that he is not valued as an employee. SFFD knew that such illegal treatment was likely to result in additional severe mental distress, emotional anguish, shame, humiliation and depression. These conditions have required Ronnie to seek medical attention that will continue long into the future.
Seeing that there is known rampant discrimination at the SFFD, of which management was aware and in which, in some cases, they participated, Angela Alioto, attorney for Ronnie Jones has filed suit on February 5, 2021 with the Superior Court of San Francisco for relief under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act in response to the Department’s discriminatory conduct against him.
“Depression is not merely sadness, it is debilitating” said attorney Angela Alioto, “it is a human response to a hopeless situation—and what use is hard work, experience, and determination if the situation is hopeless? But,” she said, “Ronnie Jones is one of the most courageous individuals I have ever known, a fighter who has survived a terrific onslaught of discrimination. Shame on the SF Fire Department for years of discriminatory behavior toward someone who’s record is exemplary and who deserves to be treated equally as all Americans do. The failure of DHR is egregious and I am sure that a jury of San Franciscans will agree with me”