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New DPW head Mohammed Nuru has history of sexism, racism accusations

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Criticism targeting new Department of Public Works head Mohammed Nuru is being dismissed as racism, but Nuru himself was the target of a lawsuit settled earlier this year that accused him of racism and sexism in the workplace.

“Nuru has a pattern of treating African-American women differently in the workplace,” according to a lawsuit filed in 2009 against The City and Nuru, which also names the head of Public Works at the time, Ed Reiskin, and the city administrator at the time, Mayor Ed Lee.

The lawsuit was filed by Toni Battle, a manager who investigated instances of discrimination against employees at the department. She said she was fired after taking a hard line on cases of discrimination.

One of Battle’s first cases involved a complaint against a male supervisor who had allegedly solicited sexual favors from a female employee — behavior that he allegedly had engaged in with four women throughout his 30-year career. She claimed that when she confronted Nuru about the male being leaked information regarding the ongoing investigation, Nuru told her to dismiss it because the male employee was retiring.

In another case, a female employee had been promoted and was to be mentored by the man she was replacing. She complained that the man was working against her and that Nuru said she “needed to learn how to dress like a lady” and to “stop acting ghetto.”

Battle said she, too, was the target of derogatory remarks from Nuru because of her gender and race and that Nuru had encouraged others not to speak to her. The lawsuit claimed he told her on various instances she “needed to know her place and show proper respect,” and she needed to be “kept in check.”

She was eventually fired after Nuru had a meeting with Reiskin and Lee, according to the lawsuit.

Nuru did not comment on the allegations of the lawsuit. A settlement of $105,000 was approved by the Board of Supervisors in February and the case can no longer go to court.

“All the facts and allegations in the lawsuit are true,” said Battle’s attorney, Waukeen McCoy. “I’m surprised that he would be promoted.”

The mayoral campaign of City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been critical of the appointment of Nuru, but no mention was made of this case, which the City Attorney’s Office defended. In an answer to the complaint, the office denied all the charges.

“The case involves personnel matters and we are not at liberty to discuss it in detail,” said Jack Song, a spokesman for the office.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com