Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

SF human rights agency dismissive of claims by gay ex-cruise worker

The case of a gay San Francisco man who’d complained to San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission that he’d been fired from a local ferry company because of his orientation isn’t holding water with the agency.

In November 2009, Hornblower Yachts Inc. and its subsidiary Alcatraz Cruises apparently terminated Vincent Atos, 47, claiming he’d been overly flirtatious with other workers.

Atos has countered that he was fired because of his sexual orientation and because he’d tried to organize a union.

In a November 4 letter to Atos, Thomas Willis, manager of the commission’s discrimination complaints unit, the agency’s investigation “found that you were terminated for inappropriate sexual conduct in the workplace.”

The letter said that Alcatraz Cruises’ human resources director got a complaint in October 2009 alleging that Atos had offered to give another cruise worker a blow job to help him out of a bad mood.

The worker had also reported that Atos had been heard several times before talking about blow jobs and saying that he enjoyed working with “young boys.” Atos had also been heard to say, “I just like hanging out in the shower with the boys,” the commission’s letter said.

Willis also reported the investigation found that Atos had “continuously pressured and harassed another male employee about ‘coming out'” and that he’d outted the man against his will.

One person had told the commission that Atos had been warned to tone down his flirtatiousness with male coworkers, according to Willis’s letter, which also said that Atos hadn’t complained about discrimination against him until he was fired.

Atos provided the Bay Area Reporter with a copy of Willis’s letter.

In an e-mail to the B.A.R., Atos said he was “very disappointed” with the investigation and called it “sloppy and narrow minded.” He said the commission had ignored the “sexually charged” work environment, which even the people who’d complained about him had taken part in.

“One of the main complainants against me is [a] supervisor who sent pornographic images to workers and even brought his laptap (sic) to work to view porn,” wrote Atos, who plans to appeal the decision and said he’s “considering other options to seek justice.”

Willis’s letter said that Atos’s case was closed, and the commission wouldn’t take any further action on it.

But in a phone interview, Theresa Sparks, the commission’s executive director, said, “We’re not done with the process yet.” She said Atos had 15 days from the time he received the letter to file an appeal to her.

“This was an administrative decision, not a director’s finding,” she said, meaning “it’s a lower level finding based on a preliminary investigation.”

Sparks said she could either validate the administrative finding, open an entirely new investigation, or overturn the initial finding.

Atos had also complained to the National Labor Relations Board, but a regional officer dismissed his claims in June.

Hornblower spokeswoman Tegan Firth said Atos’s case was “a private employee matter, and we just don’t comment on employee matters.”

Atos’s supporters are standing by him.

Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said the union’s confident a “deeper and more thorough examination” by the commission would show “salty, sexual” behavior and conversation at the cruise operation was “widespread.”

“It was only the openly gay and open union supporter who was fired for … participating along with everyone else in that kind of behavior,” said Merrileef.

David Waggoner, co-president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic club, said in an e-mail that Atos’s claims had been “extensively” researched by supporters, and it was “clear that Vincent was summarily fired within weeks of his union activity on the pretext that he was flirting with co-workers.”

He wrote, “When straight co-workers could view porn in the workplace with impunity, we can only conclude Vincent’s termination was a result of discriminatory and disparate treatment. We are disappointed the HRC apparently ignored this disparate treatment.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, November 17, 2010 @ 5:17 pm PST
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