WashCo to pay former employee $160k in discrimination settlement
Washington County has settled a lawsuit from a former employee who alleged she faced race discrimination, a hostile workplace and retaliation while working in the county's environmental health department.
Glenda Quezada, who originally filed her complaint in November 2019, will receive $160,000 as part of the settlement, which was approved by the Washington County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, July 20.
Quezada worked as a bilingual communications and education specialist from July 2018 to May 2019, with one of her main tasks being to work with Latino business owners to gain compliance with environmental regulations.
She alleges that the discrimination began shortly after she was hired, with co-workers making repeated offensive and demeaning comments about her race, including making fun of the pronunciation of her name.
Quezada identifies as a Latina person of color, according to her complaint.
She allegedly overheard a supervisor make a racist comment about how another minority group speaks, and one co-worker cursed at her for turning the lights on in a room early in the morning.
When she reported these early incidents, her supervisor was allegedly dismissive, making excuses for her co-workers' comments.
While inspecting food vendors at a county event in September 2018, one co-worker, who was the lead inspector at the time, repeatedly referred to Quezada as a "slave," introducing her "as 'our slave' to one of the food vendors," according to the complaint.
"Ms. Quezada was embarrassed, shocked, and upset by this racial slur, especially because it was used repeatedly and in front of others including the food vendors," the complaint reads.
She subsequently met with a county human resources official to report the incidents at the county event and prior issues.
Quezada also reported that she observed county environmental health inspectors targeting Latino business owners, according to the complaint.
Additionally, a co-worker allegedly commented that the department should not hire bilingual inspectors because of her experience with a prior bilingual employee.
After the meeting with the human resources official, Quezada faced retaliation from her co-workers and a supervisor, according to the complaint.
She was allegedly ostracized by her co-workers, who refused to invite her to work-related social events, received increased scrutiny and micromanagement from her supervisor, had her responsibilities reduced and discovered one co-worker "snooping around her desk," the complaint says.
Meanwhile, she allegedly continued to face micro-aggressions from her co-workers and overheard one co-worker make a derogatory statement about her for reporting her complaints.
Quezada was allegedly led to believe that human resources officials were investigating her complaints for six months.
Only after she requested a copy of the investigation report did a human resources official tell her that there had been no official investigation, according to the complaint.
Unable to continue working in that environment, Quezada submitted a letter of resignation in March 2019, the complaint says.
But she withdrew her resignation after a human resources official told her she was eligible to transfer to a different department if she was a current employee.
"Ultimately, the only solution offered by Defendant to the ongoing harassment and discrimination was for Ms. Quezada to transfer to a lower-paid position in another department," the complaint reads.
After declining the transfer offer and resubmitting her resignation, Quezada filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which later issued her a letter informing her of her right to file a lawsuit.
In an email Monday, July 26, Philip Bransford, a spokesperson for the county, confirmed that county commissioners approved the settlement. But he denied any wrongdoing on the part of Washington County and its employees.
"While the County has always been committed to supporting welcoming spaces for all employees, the County has intensified those efforts since the beginning of new Board leadership in 2019," Bransford said in part. He added that Washington County recently adopted a policy on workplace discrimination, harassment, sexual assault and retalition prevention and a resolution ?strengthening systems to address complaints of discrimination and violations of civil rights.
All three Washington County employees specifically named in Quezada's lawsuit as participating in the alleged offenses are still employed at the county, Bransford confirmed.
In an email, Kyann Kalin, Quezada's attorney, said, "I believe the way that Ms. Quezada's treatment and concerns were handled by the county reflected a lack of accountability for employees engaging in discriminatory and retaliatory behavior based on race. I am hopeful that by drawing attention to these shortcomings, Ms. Quezada's lawsuit will help to improve conditions for BIPOC employees at Washington County in the future."
The settlement amount agreed upon by Quezada's attorneys and the county was less than half the amount Quezada initially sought in the complaint.
Kalin said such compromises are common and the lesser amount shouldn't be construed as a reflection of the merit of her claims.
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