Former city employee files wrongful termination suit
MONROE - A former city employee has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city and two current employees: city administrator Gene Brazel and public works director Brad Feilberg.
Former managing engineer Maggie Inahara filed the lawsuit in Snohomish County Superior Court in September. The lawsuit alleges the defendants discriminated against her based on her gender, medical condition and for reporting discriminatory practices.
In her lawsuit, Inahara says she was subjected to abusive and threatening behavior by “a very large male co-worker.” She reported the abusive behavior, but she was ignored and instead found herself the subject of an investigation by the defendants, according to the suit.
The official reason for her termination was for violating the city’s e-mail policy, but Inahara, through her attorney Mark Shepherd, says she was fired for reporting discriminatory city practices.
In her lawsuit, she says the city intimidated her in ways such as denying her a flexible work schedule that her male counterparts received, denying her training opportunities her male counterparts received, denying her safety equipment that was provided to male employees and generally treating her worse than her male co-workers.
When Inahara confronted Brazel on Nov. 1, 2011 about her ignored complaints about the male co-worker, Brazel opened an investigation into her personal e-mail use on her city computer, put her on administrative leave and scheduled a hearing to determine any disciplinary action.
That same day, Feilberg gave Inahara a letter signed by Brazel accusing her of “using the Monroe computer for personal use and conducting private business on paid work time, therefore violating Monroe policy.” She was immediately placed on administrative leave.
The day before on Oct. 31, 2011, she notified Feilberg of her cancer diagnose and asked for time off for her scheduled surgery on Nov. 4, 2011. That day, Feilberg approved her sick leave for surgery.
The hearing to determine any disciplinary action was scheduled for Nov. 3, 2011, giving her no time to secure a lawyer, according to the suit. Feilberg urged Inahara to take her personal items home that day.
According to the suit, the hearing lasted nine minutes. Inahara says in the suit that her questions about the e-mail accusation were met with “We are here to hear your defense of the accusations.”
On Nov. 10, 2011 she was fired.
Inahara says her termination was based on less than a dozen e-mails she wrote over several months on a Monroe computer during her breaks. She believes the e-mail excuse was made up as the reason to fire her after the decision to fire her was already determined by the city.
The Tribune published a story about her firing months later and at the time Brazel would not comment as to whether 11 e-mails constituted “excessive use,” which could have been considered a violation of city e-mail policy.
Neither Brazel nor Feilberg returned the Tribune’s request for comment for this story.
Inahara worked for the city as the managing engineer from January 2008 to November 2011. During that time, she said she secured a record $4 million in grant money for Monroe and successfully completed an “unprecedented” number of capital projects within budget and deadline, according to the suit.
Inahara spoke with the Tribune after her termination. At that time, she said the city found 11 non-work-related e-mails that she sent over the course of four months.
The city e-mail policy allows for personal use as long as it’s infrequent and done during breaks. Inahara said she sent those 11 personal e-mails during her breaks. Four were to the Police Department, asking about availability of police reports for a possible column she was hoping to write in a local paper similar to a column she writes for the Woodinville Weekly called “Police Beat.”
“I had no prior warnings that the City believed this use was ‘excessive,’ and I find it hard to believe that 11 e-mails over a 4-month period would seem excessive in anyone’s book,” Inahara wrote to the Tribune in an e-mail. “There was no ‘investigation’ of anyone else’s computer use for personal emails. They were looking for a reason to terminate me, and that’s all they found.”
Shepherd said last week that Inahara’s health wouldn’t have prevented her from continuing to do her job. Shepherd is expecting a response from the city soon to the lawsuit.
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