Three former city employees have filed suit in Whatcom County Superior Court accusing the city, Administrator Mike Martin and Mayor Scott Korthuis of creating a hostile work environment by discriminating based on age and gender.
Former planning director Amy Harksell, 46, former finance director Teresa Camfield, 63, and former human resources manager Linda Peterson, 73, filed the lawsuit Friday, Aug. 26. They filed complaints against the city with the same accusations in June.
The lawsuit requests the city pay for unpaid wages and benefits that the women would have received had they stayed on and retired as planned, along with general damages and attorney’s fees. It does not specify an amount, but the June complaint requested a total of $3.85 million for all three women’s claims.
“I am disappointed they decided to take this any further,” Martin wrote Wednesday, Aug. 31, in an email. “But it won’t change the truth and as I said before, I am very confident the truth will prevail.”
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A city investigation concluded in August that Martin had not discriminated against the women. The city paid Seattle attorney Barbara Kastama $54,000 to investigate, and she concluded Martin’s actions had been gender and age neutral.
Bellingham attorney Carrie Coppinger Carter represents the women in both actions. She dismissed Kastama’s conclusions, saying they would “have no effect on our clients’ claims.”
The former employees allege Martin often dismissed the women’s work until a male employee approved it. More specifically, the lawsuit claims Martin yelled at Peterson and Camfield several times for not going home at 5 p.m. but did not do the same to male employees who stayed later.
The lawsuit also alleges Martin once asked Peterson to arrange a panel interview for an open IT position with the city. Martin, according to the lawsuit, walked into the room for the interview, looked at the materials Peterson had prepared, said, “I’m taking over,” and did not use Peterson’s interview materials.
The lawsuit alleges Harksell often had to ask Steve Banham, the city’s public works director, to present her project proposals and explanations to Martin or he would reject them. The lawsuit also describes a meeting where Martin told a group of department heads about a girl he knew in high school who Martin “hated” for being “too smart” and having “all the answers.”
All three women were long-standing city employees when they resigned or retired. Camfield, had been with the city for 17 years; Peterson had been there for nearly seven. The lawsuit says they both retired about two years earlier than planned, in June 2014.
Harksell had been with the city for 24 years. She complained to the city about Martin in early March 2016 and went on medical leave in early May of this year, about a month before she resigned, the lawsuit says, adding that her doctor recommended the leave because of the “ongoing discrimination.”