Appeals court upholds ruling in favor of San Francisco in employee's discrimination suit

By Tomas Kassahun | Apr 3, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO — The 1st District Court of Appeal of has upheld the lower court’s ruling in favor of the city of San Francisco in a lawsuit brought by a city employee.  

Byron Gill, an African-American man who worked for the city of San Francisco as a gardener since 1996, filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing after he was denied a promotion to district captain, according to the court.

Gill submitted an application in 2011 for a position as a district captain, but the city hired Michelle Pallavicini, who Gill said had less experience, according to background information in the ruling. 

Gill was still employed with the city in 2015 when he alleged discrimination and retaliation, saying “the City found fault with almost everything he did on the job, suspended him for minor rule violations not enforced against other workers, passed him over for promotion, and even refused to allow him to transfer away from the supervisors who were making his work life miserable," according to information in the ruling.

Byron Gill, who worked as a gardener for the city of San Francisco, filed a complaint against the city.

The trial court granted the city summary judgment on the discrimination claim, but didn’t dismiss the retaliation claim, which moved to a  jury trial, the appeals court wrote. 

After the jury decided in favor of the city on the retaliation claim, Gill appealed the case.

Gill told the court that he had a strong reputation as a city gardner before the alleged retaliation, working as a groundskeeper at Candlestick Park, handling every phase of gardening at the city’s parks and working as lead gardner and acting supervisor before 2013.

Gill said the city retaliated against in him many ways after the alleged racial discrimination, including yelling at him, changing the parks where he worked and increasing scrutiny.

“He also claimed that the City refused to provide him tools, equipment, and supplies—indeed, that Pallavicini actually took tools from his cargo container,” the appeals court wrote.

Gill’s complaint also pointed to his supervisor Adrian Field, who conducted an annual evaluation in 2014 and ranked Gill 1.5 overall, according to the appeals court.

The court said Gill accused Pallavicini of taking away his work truck and suspending him for using his own truck.

“That same month, Pallavicini prepared a performance improvement plan for Gill that included strict requirements for taking breaks, talking to the public and co-workers, lateness and absences,” the court wrote.

In April 2016, Gill was suspended 20 days for what Gill described as “minor offenses of a type not brought against any other gardeners,” the appeals court wrote.

Field told the court that he was not focused on Gill’s work from 2007-12 because Gill was assigned to Rolph Park and Garfield Park, which were not a priority.

However, Field added that Rolph Park became priority in 2013 because the renovation of the baseball field led to an increased activity there and the clubhouse began to be used for after-school activities.

According to the defendants, Gill’s work at Rolph Park wasn’t satisfactory.

Gill failed to weed and trim shrubs, clean debris, maintain the irrigation system and report alcohol and drug use, the defendants told the court.

The city’s evidence also showed that Gill wasn’t selected for district captain because Pallavicini was highly recommended for the position, she had excellent work ethic and was selected for the William Hammond Hall award, the highest honor given to a gardner, the appeals court wrote.

The appeals court said Gill wasn’t able to prove the connection between the alleged retaliation and the city’s actions against him.

“Gill lost on causation, the jury obviously determining that what the City did was because Gill’s conduct and performance—perhaps more accurately, failure of performance—warranted it,” the appeals court wrote. 

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