A San Diego Fire-Rescue Department captain told NBC 7 she was sexually harassed for years and was the subject of retaliation after she demanded the department do something about the harassment.
Captain Sara Alfaro’s attorney filed a lawsuit on her behalf against the department and the city of San Diego earlier this month.
The 18-year veteran firefighter said she loved her job because she loved helping people, but added that her love for her career dissolved when the sexual harassment never stopped.
“Being treated poorly and having your own organization treat you like you don’t matter is something that erodes you to the very core,” said Alfaro.
“I’m disappointed,” said her attorney Manny Corrales. He filed the lawsuit that says Alfaro was subjected to “severe sexual harassment”.
The lawsuit lists a number of incidents, including one of Alfaro’s male coworkers sending her a picture of his “exposed genitalia” resting on her towel at the fire station. The lawsuit also said she was sent “suggestive text messages.”
Alfaro said the harassment got worse after she filed complaints with her superiors. She admitted being frustrated when her leadership opted to open an investigation, during which the lawsuit said she experienced “severe retaliation” and some of her bosses “turned a blind eye."
“I underestimated how terrible it would be. This has been one of the worst years of my life,” she said.
“There’s no reason for her not to be protected,” added Corrales.
NBC 7 reached out to the City of San Diego and SDFD. A spokeswoman for the fire department said they cannot comment on pending litigation. However,
Alfaro said she emailed then-San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy about her concerns.
Shortly thereafter, she said another chief took her engine out of service for two hours “so that he could chew me out and then tell me he was sent down there from Chief Fennessy with a warning to not send that type of email and to not threaten to go to the news and here I am.”
Alfaro said she was not promoted on several occasions because of the investigation.
“I feel utterly punished and alienated,” she said. “I feel like my family or the family I thought I had turned their back on me.”
A spokesman for the city of San Diego said all city employees and firefighters are required to undergo sexual harassment training every two years.
“This training and test came during all this, so I went to them and said, ‘Hey, I was just tested on this’,” laughed Alfaro.
She said the odd timing left her baffled and heartbroken.
“I am no longer proud of the uniform I wear. I’m actually quite ashamed of it,” she said.