Four former Seattle City Light employees, all female, are accusing the electric-power utility of discrimination and retaliation, saying they were treated differently because of their age, gender or sexual orientation and were forced out after complaining.
The plaintiffs, including a woman once identified by the city as the first African-American woman in the country to become a journey-level electric line worker, sued City Light in King County Superior Court on Oct. 17 for an unspecified dollar amount.
The plaintiffs claim they were each wronged by DaVonna Johnson, a human-resources officer, and say City Light CEO Jorge Carrasco failed to protect them.
“City Light has a long-standing history of discrimination and retaliation against older female employees,” their complaint says. “City Light has a history of discriminating against employees substantially motivated by the sexual orientation of the employees.”
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The Seattle City Attorney’s Office is fighting the charges.
“Seattle City Light strongly denies the allegations of discrimination and retaliation in the complaint and reiterates the utility’s commitment to treating all its employees with respect,” said Katrina Kelly, the assistant city attorney assigned to the case.
“We will vigorously defend City Light against these unfounded claims,” Kelly added.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs didn’t return a request for comment Thursday.
Johnson didn’t return a request for comment.
Plaintiff Annette “Nettie” Dokes, 54, says she was fired March 5.
Hired by City Light in 1987, Dokes became a journey-level line worker in 1992, breaking into a well-paid job category traditionally dominated by men. Just six of 120 line workers were women as of 2013, according to a city review.
Dokes says she complained about discrimination at City Light starting in 2010. She says hostility and discrimination at work forced her to take an extended medical leave starting in 2012 and claims she was harassed by City Light staff while she was away.
Patsy Taylor, described in the complaint as being more than 60 years old, says she was forced to retire this year, a year earlier than planned, because of hostility at work.
Taylor says her work was criticized by Johnson after reporting in 2010 that a union official had yelled at her and used profanity toward her.
Olayinka Ogunyemi, 62, says she was “subjected to false allegations of policy violations and suspended from work” after complaining about discrimination because of her age and race.
She says she suffered a serious medical condition after being put under scrutiny by Johnson in 2011. Ogunyemi says she has been on medical leave since June 2012.
Karen DeVenaro, 49, an apprenticeship manager, says her troubles began after she expressed concern about an employee accused of extorting alcohol from apprentices.
She claims Johnson afterward interfered with her job duties and questioned her “commitment to safety, honesty and integrity.” DeVenaro says she had to give up her position last year — after complaining to management about sexual-orientation bias — because her duties had been reassigned to younger, less experienced employees.
Dokes declined to comment. Efforts to reach the other plaintiffs were unsuccessful.
Carrasco has had a challenging year. Mayor Ed Murray canceled a huge pay increase for the City Light executive in July after a series of negative news stories.
In June, The Seattle Times revealed Carrasco had authorized $47,500 in contracts with an image-management firm, mostly to improve his own Google search results.
He also caught flak for having allowed con men to take 20 tons of copper wire from City Light after saying they needed the material for a Native American charity.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or firstname.lastname@example.org