3 sue Everett police, allege ethnic bias blocked promotions
The federal lawsuit filed by two current and one former Everett police officers alleges they were discriminated against and denied promotions. The three, all ethnic minorities, say they suffered emotional distress in a hostile workplace.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Two Everett police officers and a former officer — all ethnic minorities — have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging they were discriminated against based on their ethnicities and denied promotions.
The attorney for Officer Sherman Mah, Sgt. Richard Wolfington and Sgt. Manuel Garcia filed a lawsuit yesterday against the city, Police Chief Katherine Atwood and Capt. David Fudge.
The three cases are similar, alleging that the department failed to advance them and promoted less-qualified whites over them, said their attorney, Victoria Vreeland.
The claim alleges the department, and Atwood and Fudge in particular, created a hostile work environment, caused the plaintiffs emotional distress and discriminated against them.
The city issued a statement saying the plaintiffs’ allegations were investigated and “were without merit.’’
Garcia, who was born in Mexico and is a naturalized citizen, was hired in 1988 and, according to the lawsuit, was the first Hispanic and bilingual officer on the force. In November 2010, Garcia sought a promotion to lieutenant and was ranked first on the promotional list but was passed over for a white male who ranked third, the suit alleges. By March 2011, Garcia was promoted to lieutenant and was placed under the supervision of Fudge who, according to the complaint, treated him unlike how he treated others, put extreme pressure on him and created unfair expectations.
The complaint alleges that Fudge gave Garcia poor performance evaluations based on incidents that occurred before his promotion and exaggerated incidents to bolster the poor evaluation. When Garcia complained to supervisors that he was being unfairly treated, Fudge placed him on a performance-development plan instead of transferring him to another supervisor or having the probationary period extended, opportunities afforded to Caucasian lieutenants, the complaint says.
Ultimately, Garcia was returned to his rank of sergeant, the only occurrence in 20 years where an officer was returned to the same rank after the probation expired, according to the complaint.
In September 2010, Mah, who was hired by the department in 1995 and is Asian- American, sought a promotion to sergeant. At that time, he ranked second on the promotional list and a white female was promoted. In three subsequent attempts at a promotion, he was skipped over for white males who ranked first, fourth and fifth on the eligibility list. Mah complained to the city’s human-resources department, which took no action, according to the complaint. He later asked Fudge to appoint him sergeant, and Fudge and Atwood declined, instead promoting a white male who had failed the promotional test, the complaint alleges.
Mah asked for a promotion again in May 2012, and at that time Atwood instead promoted a candidate who scored the lowest on the promotional testing list, the complaint alleges.
Wolfington was hired in 1993 and sought a promotion as a lieutenant in 2010, ranking fourth on the list. Shortly after the test, he confronted Fudge and his superiors, saying he believed Fudge had an “inappropriate relationship with a subordinate female officer and that there appeared to be sexual harassment occurring,’’ according to the complaint.
Wolfington, who is Native American, said in the complaint that at an Everett police retirement party, Fudge allegedly was drinking alcohol while he was the on-duty officer — a violation of department policy.
When Wolfington confronted Fudge about his condition, the complaint says, Fudge became angry. Afterward, the complaint alleges, Fudge began treating Wolfington in a hostile and retaliatory manner, over-scrutinizing his work, skipping over him for promotions and eventually causing him so much stress and ill health he was forced to quit his job.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages and attorney fees.
Nancy Bartley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8522