Whistleblowing retaliation, age prejudice among former Financial Officer Harriet Deary's allegations.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Harriet Deary -- who used to work in accounts payable in this building, the administrative headquarters of Portland Public Schools -- is suing in federal court over allegations of discrimination and wrongful termination. A former manager has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Portland Public Schools for employment discrimination.

Former senior accounts payable manager Harriet Deary, in a complaint filed Jan. 8 in U.S. District Court, alleges that the school district terminated her while on approved Family Medical Leave, retaliated against her for whistleblowing, and discriminated against her on the basis of age and gender.

Deary, who was born in 1949 and hired by the district in 2008, claims she was one of the oldest employees in her department. She alleges that when then-Chief Executive Officer Yousef Awwad — who has since been fired from the district — discovered her age, he began to treat her differently.

In April, Deary filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a necessary step before filing a lawsuit — which issued a decision in November that it would dismiss the claim.

Deary is asking the court for two years of lost wages and benefits, totaling $182,958, plus any punitive damages it determines necessary.

Deary also filed a complaint last April with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries' Civil Rights Division. In that April 11 complaint, she alleges that after she had a conversation in May 2016 with Awwad about her approaching retirement age, she was subjected to "hostility, undermining my authority as a manager, conversations about adapting to the 'millennials style of thinking' and heavy scrutinizing of my work and my abilities while younger staff members were favored."

In July 2016, the district's administration began hemorrhaging personnel, as the discovery of lead in school water and increasingly vitriolic accusations of poor management prompted the superintendent and others to resign.

Deary said she also objected to the "gifting of public funds" by allowing a temporary employee to be paid for snow days, and the purchase of decorations for a business meeting that was later canceled. For that, she claims whistle-blower status.

BOLI sent a letter Oct. 10 dismissing Deary's claim "because the Division did not find sufficient evidence to continue our investigation." The federal EEOC adopted the state decision, too.

Requests for comment from the district, beginning Jan. 11, were not returned by press time.

Deary declined to comment on this case other than to say that she believes her civil rights have been violated. She is not formally represented by council.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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