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Originally published Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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City Light workers win bias lawsuit

A jury found Seattle City Light discriminated against two longtime employees and awarded them more than $1.4 million Monday. The 12-member King County...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A jury found Seattle City Light discriminated against two longtime employees and awarded them more than $1.4 million Monday.

The 12-member King County Superior Court jury decided that Phi Trinh, a Vietnamese-American hydroelectric-power supervisor, faced a hostile work environment because of his race and was discriminated against in the promotion process. The jury awarded him $947,290 for emotional harm and lost wages.

The jury concluded that Mattie Bailey, a black communications manager, also endured workplace hostility because of her race and was not paid equitably for her work. Bailey was awarded $503,195.

The verdicts mark the fifth time in a decade that either City Light has settled or a jury has ruled against it in a racial-discrimination case. The previous four cases cost the city-owned utility more than $1 million.

Jack Sheridan, attorney for Trinh and Bailey, said City Light didn't "seem to learn" from previous employee complaints. Sheridan said City Light failed to conduct annual performance evaluations of Trinh and Bailey, contrary to city policy.

City Light hasn't decided whether to appeal the decision.

"City Light is disappointed in the verdict. The events that were the subject of this lawsuit occurred several years ago. We do not tolerate disparate treatment. We respect and embrace our diverse workforce. We will evaluate our legal options," Sung Yang, City Light's chief of staff, said in a prepared statement.

City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco has increased diversity training at the utility, according to city officials. When Carrasco, who is Hispanic, took City Light's top job in 2004, he said he would not tolerate discrimination. "I've been reviewing several instances of lost lawsuits and costly settlements and I expect them to stop," Carrasco said in a letter to City Light employees in April 2004.

Sheridan said Carrasco was giving "lip service" to equal opportunity.

Trinh, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, started working for City Light in 1983 at its Skagit River Valley powerhouses. He has held the title of power "generation supervisor" since 1989.

In his lawsuit, Trinh said his superiors "regularly provided" his white peers with benefits, support staff and meaningful work while assigning him "dead-end jobs." In 2003, Trinh applied for a post as Skagit manager, but City Light hired a white person who was less qualified, Trinh said.

Bailey, a 20-year City Light employee, contended she was paid less than whites who performed similar work. She also said her supervisor, who no longer works at City Light, referred to her as "Superfly." The supervisor also told her he respected Thomas Jefferson because of his "fatherly relationship with his slaves," she said.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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