Two former Seattle Central Library employees, who said a manager kissed them both and didn’t investigate after a co-worker spanked one of them, will receive $220,000 to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit.
Seattle will pay $220,000 to two former library security guards who said a manager kissed them both and didn’t investigate a co-worker who held one of them on his lap and spanked her.
The two women, as a settlement condition, had to leave their jobs at the Central Library downtown and never work for Seattle again.
The manager still works for the city in a different department and wasn’t disciplined.
The co-worker was charged with fourth-degree assault and the city fired him.
Most Read Local Stories
- Severity of 'bomb cyclone' uncertain, but Seattle area should prepare for wind, rain and power outages
- 'Bomb cyclone' expected in the Seattle area. Here's what to know
- Why losing daily walks to rainy season is hitting us hard — and what to do about it
- Amanda Knox was exonerated. That doesn’t mean she’s free
- Coronavirus daily news updates, October 22: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
Yolanda Cooper and Michelle Chun Fook said the city failed to support them, adding to the pain of the harassment.
“Their attitudes toward us was we (were) negligent and we had to handle the trauma on our own,” said Cooper, of Puyallup.
Cooper and Chun Fook filed suit in August 2016 in U.S. District Court of Western Washington, alleging they were sexually and racially harassed and worked in a hostile environment.
The settlement comes in the wake of headlines across the country naming male politicians, actors, film directors, business leaders and media members who have been fired or quit after sexual harassment and assault claims.
The #MeToo social-media movement took off in October when actresses reported Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein had harassed them. At the Golden Globes Sunday, attendees wore black and sported pins stating “Time’s up,” in reference to a new gender-equality movement in Hollywood.
Seattle City Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Kimberly Mills defended the city, saying there are no pending harassment lawsuits. “There is no Harvey Weinstein on the loose in the city,” Mills wrote in an email Friday. The city admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.
Afraid for their jobs
Chun Fook alleged in the lawsuit that in 2015, co-worker Robert Gautschi forced her to sit on his lap against her will.
She added that he repeatedly told her she was wearing “hooker” clothing in front of co-workers and their manager Harry “Joe” Fithian, who she claimed “smirked as if the comment was funny.”
Fithian, then the facilities and security services manager, didn’t discipline Gautschi when he made these remarks, inappropriately touched her and made racist comments to patrons, according to the lawsuit.
Fithian and Gautschi were originally defendants in the lawsuit but were later dismissed from the case after paying a total of $14,000 to the women, Mills said. The attorney for both men, Cristin Aragon, said they had no comment.
Chun Fook, 53, previously worked as a security guard before starting at the Central Library in 2010.
Cooper, 56, was a corrections officer in Florida who became homeless for three months after moving to Seattle. With the help of local organizations, she found a place to live and a job as a private security guard. She started working for the library five years ago.
About 14 people work on the security team.
Chun Fook alleged Fithian kissed her on the forehead and Cooper alleged he kissed her on the cheek in 2015.
Neither reported it at the time, saying they depended on their $30-per-hour jobs.
“You feel violated, targeted, disgusted and confused and humiliated,” Cooper said. “My main focus was I don’t want to lose my job.”
Mills said a city investigator later concluded there was insufficient evidence that the kissing occurred.
“The city doesn’t give a damn about the employees, making them look like liars,” said Paul Woods, an attorney representing the women. “It’s disgusting.”
“I was in shock”
Gautschi, a nine-year employee, pulled Chun Fook down on his lap again, on Feb. 19, 2016, with her face down, and spanked her buttocks several times at the security desk, according to the lawsuit.
“I immediately stood up and I didn’t say anything, like a dummy, and I ran out and got on a bus,” Chun Fook said. “I was in shock; I couldn’t believe it happened right there on Level One with a Microsoft event and a witness a few feet away during the evening shift.”
On her way home, she told her direct supervisor about it.
Because he wasn’t authorized to discipline Gautschi, the supervisor passed it on to Fithian.
Instead of taking the complaint seriously, Fithian laughed at Chun Fook, saying Gautschi gave her a few “birthday spankings,” the lawsuit states.
Her birthday had been that weekend.
When Fithian didn’t investigate, the women went to the library’s human-resources department to complain.
Gautschi admitted he spanked her, according to Seattle public records.
Chun Fook said she had anxiety attacks every time she saw him in the elevator, hallways and meetings and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
In March, Gautschi was transferred to work at other library branches, but Chun Fook still had to face him when he went to the downtown library for the start and end of his shifts and meetings. In a “last chance agreement,” the city decided not to fire him, instead suspending him for two weeks in April.
Chun Fook filed a police report, and the Seattle Municipal Court issued a no-contact order Aug. 17, 2016.
The city attorney’s criminal division charged him with fourth-degree misdemeanor assault.
As part of a “dispositional continuance” of his case, Gautschi pleaded not guilty but is on probation, must stay 500 feet away from Chun Fook for two years and complete 48 hours of community service. He was terminated in December 2016 because the no-contact order prevented him from being at the Central Library.
Five security officers reported to the city investigator they were dissatisfied with Fithian’s handling of their concerns or complaints about Gautschi.
Fithian sent a letter of resignation on Jan. 11, 2017, to the library’s human-resources department, stating he had a job at Seattle Public Utilities starting in February.
A Jan. 25 letter from the city to Fithian states he would have faced a five-day suspension and been stripped of supervising the security team had he stayed at the library.
His title at SPU is security manager.