Tyler Fowler, an appraiser for the County Assessor's Office who is African-American, says her supervisor Mark Sitzer made racially disparaging remarks on numerous occasions and county administrators failed to address it. She is suing Sitzer and the County of San Diego for racial discrimination.
According to the August 15 complaint filed in state court, discord between Fowler and Sitzer began in late 2016 after Fowler informed Sitzer that his department was not meeting certain deadlines. Fowler says Sitzer's anger over the comments surfaced in an April 20, 2017, altercation.
On that day Fowler was speaking to a coworker when Sitzer approached Fowler from behind. He touched her hair and stated that it felt just like "petting his dog."
Less than three weeks later, Sitzer again approached Fowler and patted her on the head. Referring to another employee's looks, also an African-American female, Sitzer then told Fowler that he was a "nigger lover."
Disturbed and upset, Fowler left the office. She went home and typed up a letter to an employee from the human resources department, detailing the interaction.
"...The situation being what it is, [Sitzer's] actions of late and now, his words seem to be escalating so that I don't feel comfortable coming to work and being allowed to do my job without having to consider what I will have to endure or put up with from him next," Fowler wrote. "I'm concerned about what other liberties he might feel it's ok to take with me. I never thought things would've gone this far. It's at the point where I can no longer excuse his behavior as harmless and ignorant, especially when he calls me a nigger to my face."
Upon learning of the potential complaint, Sitzer left a voice mail for Fowler. In the voice mail he admitted to saying the racial slur and that he was sorry. He said that he had an "affinity for black folk" and he did not mean anything by it.
The county placed Sitzer on leave while it investigated the issue. He, however, was allowed to return to work and eventually to the same office that he occupied. After refusing to leave her office and frustrated by the county's inaction, Fowler filed a complaint with the Fair Employment and Housing Department on August 9, 2017. The complaint was then followed with a lawsuit.
Fowler's attorney, Dan Gilleon, says the county should have acted by immediately terminating Sitzer. Instead, says Gilleon, it points to ratification of racism by the county.
"The County of San Diego has ratified the most obvious form of racism — the use of the ’n word’ by a high level chief to a black subordinate — by not terminating him," says Gilleon. "This would not happen at SDG&E, Qualcomm, Walmart. There, the person would be fired immediately. It seems only government entities— emboldened by the lack of leadership in this country — that are allowing this kind of overt racism, destroying the fabric of this country one racist act at a time."