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Originally published Friday, November 6, 2009 at 12:13 AM

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City agrees to pay $812,250 to ex-utility worker in race-bias, harassment suit

The city of Seattle has agreed to pay $812,250 to settle a race-discrimination and harassment case brought by a former City Light employee.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The city of Seattle has agreed to pay $812,250 to settle a race-discrimination and harassment case brought by a former City Light employee.

The settlement was revised from $503,000, the amount a jury awarded the employee, Mattie Bailey, after a six-week trial in 2007. Bailey argued she'd been underpaid since the mid-1990s.

The city appealed the 2007 verdict. Higher courts subsequently upheld the harassment verdict but threw out the damage award because the statute of limitations had expired. The state courts overturned the pay claim after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held, under federal law, that the statute of limitations begins to run when the first paycheck is issued, rather than when the plaintiff learns she is being underpaid.

The case was sent back to Superior Court, but the settlement was announced Thursday before the case went to trial, according to Bailey's attorney, Jack Sheridan. About $300,000 of the new amount will go to legal fees, Sheridan said.

Jean Boler, an assistant city attorney, said the city decided to settle the case to avoid incurring additional legal costs.

Bailey, who is African American, worked for City Light from 1981 until her retirement in 2008. She was a manager and head of City Light's communication division until City Light hired Gary Zarker as director. Zarker reorganized Bailey's division, took away her responsibilities and gave them to white employees, Sheridan said.

Bailey was removed from most of her managerial duties and given clerical work, Sheridan said, and she suffered racially motivated comments from her superiors.

The jury found Bailey endured workplace hostility because of her race and was not paid equitably for her work.

The jury verdict found City Light discriminated against her and another long-term employee, Phi Trinh, a hydroelectric-power supervisor. The city paid Trinh more than $1 million in 2007.

Bailey's 2007 jury award marked the fifth time in a decade City Light had either settled or lost a racial-discrimination case.

"Mattie was a great manager," Sheridan said, "and the city wasted her as a resource because it allowed the good old boys to run the utility instead of awarding jobs on merit."

Bailey now teaches civil-rights classes at Central Seattle Community College.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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