Seattle paid about $4.4 million in the last decade to settle city-employee allegations of discrimination. But the city hasn’t been tracking sexual-harassment settlements specifically, so it can’t readily say how much those have cost taxpayers.
Seattle leaders trying to address #MeToo concerns are dealing with blurry data on sexual harassment and a fragmented human-resources system.
The city paid about $4.4 million in the last decade to settle 52 cases involving city-employee allegations of discrimination, including sexual harassment, The Seattle Times learned last week, nearly a month after asking for the information.
The City Attorney’s Office hasn’t been tracking sexual-harassment settlements as a discrete category, so it couldn’t readily say how much those have cost taxpayers.
Some of the settlements resolved lawsuits, while others put to bed cases filed with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
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No department tallied more than Seattle City Light, where sexual-harassment allegations have recently flared. It had nine settlements in the past 10 years, totaling about $1.39 million.
One came last year when the city paid $375,000 to three women who, under different circumstances, said they had been mistreated at City Light due to age, gender, race or sexual orientation and had been retaliated against after complaining.
With about 2,000 of Seattle’s 12,000 employees, City Light is second in size only to the Seattle Police Department, which had five settlements, totaling about $556,000.
Seeking more transparency and accountability, Mayor Jenny Durkan has ordered Seattle’s departments to begin notifying the central Department of Human Resources about harassment investigations and settlements.
Durkan says she’s committed to an ongoing effort to consolidate human-resources units inside departments that long have handled complaints on their own.
That push stumbled under former Mayor Ed Murray partly due to a toxic work environment inside the Department of Human Resources, Crosscut reported last month, describing rampant turnover and written reprimands “handed out like candy.”
But another key problem was City Light resistance, according to a former union official.
Guadalupe Perez-Garcia, who represented City Light office workers, supported the consolidation effort, thinking outside investigations would be more effective. But Murray’s Department of Human Resources director, Susan Coskey — who resigned in December — struggled to secure buy-in from the departments, Perez-Garcia said.
“She got pushback,” the former union rep said. “Mostly from City Light.”
Alice Lockridge, who recently retired after working in City Light’s HR unit, echoed that, saying she heard managers speak against the move.
“They would giggle and say, ‘It’s never going to happen,’ ” said Lockridge, who sued City Light for alleged retaliation after she testified in a case against the utility.
City Light’s HR director, DaVonna Johnson, denied resisting the move, saying City Light has “worked cooperatively” with the Department of Human Resources since 2013.
“We have devoted hundreds of hours of utility staff time to support citywide workforce initiatives, task forces and interdepartmental teams,” Johnson said.