Fired employee’s lawsuit against Monroe going to trial
MONROE - Former employee Maggie Inahara has resurrected her wrongful termination lawsuit against the city that alleges co-worker abuse, gender discrimination and an unfair handling of her medical condition.
Earlier reports indicated Inahara was let go after she was targeted for sending a small number of personal emails from her work computer.
The trial date in Snohomish County Superior Court is yet to be determined, but Inahara’s camp is asking for a jury.
The lawsuit is alive again after being dormant for a year because the court threatened to close the case because of inactivity.
Inahara was fired in November 2011 after the city initiated what could be seen as a fishing expedition shortly after she complained about a co-worker’s abusive behavior toward her. She told this paper shortly after the firing that she believed she had a target on her back after she openly questioned a city reorganization plan in 2010 that she felt was rigged against her.
She was the city’s managing engineer from January 2008 until her termination.
Inahara filed her lawsuit in Sept. 2012 against city administrator Gene Brazel, human resources manager Ben Warthan and public works director Brad Feilberg. Warthan was dismissed with prejudice from the case in November 2012.
Inahara is seeking damages including loss of earnings, compensation and benefits, mental and emotional trauma and loss of reputation and professional status.
Court documents state that the city’s actions against her were based upon her gender, her medical condition and possible retaliation for her reporting discriminatory and hostile acts.
Neither the city nor the city’s legal representation returned repeat phone calls from the Tribune. The city’s attorney, Seattle lawyer Mark Bucklin, was out of the office but checking voicemails. Inahara’s attorney also did not respond to messages.
According to court documents filed by her attorney, the alleged catalyst of her termination was after she was frightened by a large male co-worker who came into her office and “subjected her to loud, aggressive behavior” in September 2011 and human resources did nothing about it. She had similar abuse from the same man before.
Inahara followed up on the incident to Brazel in a Nov. 1 email, and he turned around that day and initiated an IT investigation of her work computer.
At that same time, Inahara had just sought sick leave and was away from the office.
The medical condition was Inahara’s diagnosis of malignant melanoma in Octover 2011.
Court documents state Inahara shared this information with her boss Feilberg, and that she was scheduled for surgery on Nov. 4, 2011. On Oct. 31, 2011, Feilberg approved Inahara’s request for sick leave.
The next day, Nov. 1, 2011, Feilberg presented Inahara with 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.”
The city’s investigation found 11 non-work related emails she sent over the course of four months. Four of those emails were to the Monroe Police Department.
In a 2011 Tribune interview, Inahara suspected she was terminated after she publicly questioned Brazel’s plans in 2010 to reorganize major city departments. She was interested in becoming the public works director, which was Brazel’s old job before becoming city administrator.
Inahara said the reorganization would have promoted Brazel’s longtime friend who didn’t have any engineering experience.
She voiced her concerns before the City Council that the job requirements for public works director included skills only his friend had that are not typical skills required for a public works director. The job description included minimum requirements of being able to operate gas-powered machinery in excess of 50 pounds and experience laying pipe, Inahara said.
A Loudermill hearing, a standard meeting where both sides are supposed to discuss the violation, was conducted on Nov. 3, 2011 — a day before Inahara’s scheduled surgery. The hearing lasted just nine minutes and any questions Inahara asked were responded with the statement city administrators wanted to “hear your defense of the accusations.” Inahara’s employment was terminated on Nov. 10, 2011.
The city opens its Loudermill hearings to let the employee respond, but it was unclear as of press time what follows after that.
“The City of Monroe will schedule a pre-disciplinary meeting to permit the employee to respond to a notice of discipline (Loudermill),” Warthan told the Tribune this week. “At the beginning of the pre-disciplinary meeting, the City of Monroe will describe its proposed discipline and the general reasons for issuing the proposed discipline.”
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