The Pierce County Council took action Tuesday spelling out that elected and appointed officials cannot retaliate against any of the county’s 3,000-some employees when they make a complaint or cooperate in an investigation.
The changes in county code are a condition of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice into alleged civil rights violations at the office of Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam. That settlement, released in June, required the county to revise its anti-discrimination policies and submit them to federal officials for approval.
The added language, which the council approved unanimously Tuesday, states, “No individual shall be subjected to retaliation because they have exercised a right protected under the law such as complaining about discrimination or harassment or assisting with or participating in the resolution or investigation of such a complaint in the workplace.”
The revision also says any form of retaliation against someone who takes part in a complaint or investigation will not be tolerated and is subject to disciplinary action, including termination.
The county’s policy also requires all elected and appointed officials to cooperate with complaints or charges of discrimination or retaliation.
The changes to the county’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy specify that it applies to elected and appointed officials in addition to all levels and departments of county government.
The changes, already approved by the Department of Justice, become law 10 days after County Executive Pat McCarthy signs the ordinance. Without commenting on them, the council voted 7-0 to adopt the changes Tuesday.
Federal investigators said Washam discriminated against his employees by retaliating against them after they complained about his behavior. A lawsuit filed in June in U.S. District Court concluded a yearlong investigation by the Department of Justice and included a settlement the county agreed to after months negotiations.
The agreement required all county employees, including elected officials such as Washam and their appointees, to attend training on policies regarding discrimination and the proper response to employee complaints about it.
At the time of the settlement, Washam said he did not know the county and the justice department had been negotiating for months.
The June complaint was the fifth finding of misconduct and retaliation by Washam since he took office in 2009. Complaints from his staff members spawned a series of investigations, damage claims and settlement payouts to current and former employees over the past three years.
Washam ran for re-election but failed to advance in the August primary.