Even though an investigation found a top Tacoma official belittled and berated female employees, the city offered to let him keep working there anyway.
Had he accepted the offer — which he didn’t — Ricardo Noguera would have gotten a new job and a total of $42,224 for three months’ work.
The investigation that led to Noguera’s dismissal Dec. 4 said his behavior created a hostile work environment, and found a majority of his staff did not see him as an effective leader of the Community and Economic Development office.
Nevertheless, before Noguera was fired, City Manager Elizabeth Pauli gave him the chance to help craft a new position for himself in concert with the city’s Human Resources Department.
Under the arrangement, Noguera, as the city’s new “chief development officer,” would have been paid for three months at a rate equivalent to $141,000 a year, down from his director’s pay of $168,896 a year. The city also offered a one-time payment of nearly $7,000.
After the three months, Noguera’s job title and duties were to be settled, so his pay might have gone up or down, Pauli said Monday when asked about the offer.
The new job would have enabled the city to use Noguera’s skills in a new project management role, Pauli said.
He would not have supervised any employees, and would have worked in a different office, away from the women who said he treated them differently than male employees, she said.
“My offer was to put him in a non-supervisory position in an effort to make use of the talents I think he did offer to the city, and at the same time mitigate any of the concerns and liabilities that might have been present in a supervisory capacity,” Pauli said.
In the end, Noguera said Monday, his ego and pride prevented him from accepting the offer. As director of the development office, he was in charge of several divisions and projects in addition to economic development.
As for the city’s allegations against him, he again denied he harassed and berated female staff members or that he was an ineffective leader.
“I think (the complaints) were orchestrated,” Noguera told The News Tribune. “Most of these allegations occurred three to four years ago. If that’s the case, why didn’t they bring them up then?”
After he was fired, Noguera filed a claim against the city, contending Pauli treated him and other people of color unfairly. The city declined to meet his $1 million settlement demand, and Noguera has indicated he intends to sue the city.
After two people filed recent complaints against Noguera, city investigators interviewed the roughly 30 people in the department. Their reports include remarks from workers who say Noguera harassed and berated female employees, yelled at people and was not a strategic manager.
In addition to denying the allegations, Noguera has said he leveraged nearly $1 billion in private investment in Tacoma since arriving here five years ago. Of that, he said $500 million worth of projects that he had a hand in are under construction in downtown Tacoma.
“If I was such a bad leader, Tacoma wouldn’t look the way it is,” he said.
Noguera, an African American of Latino heritage, contends he is being discriminated against because of his race.
His claim says several people of color have left the city since Pauli became city manager in May, and that white managers were treated differently than he was when allegations of harassment surfaced.
“I feel that the climate in Tacoma has changed for people of color, and people especially at my level don’t feel comfortable anymore.” he said in an interview.
City Attorney Bill Fosbre said Friday the city denies Noguera’s allegations.
Noguera shouldn’t have been fired, and in its reports the city ignored positive comments workers made about his leadership, said his attorney, Kristi Favard.
Those workers also told investigators Noguera was loud, boisterous, “East Coast” and not “warm and fuzzy,” those are not grounds for firing, Favard said.
The employees investigators interviewed said Noguera at times was an impediment to productivity.
“The less Ricardo is involved in the work, the more they can get done,” one said.
Several women noted he made comments about their appearance or choices of dates. A few women also said he didn’t make similar comments about their male peers.
“The comments he makes are inappropriate,” said a staffer who told an investigator Noguera knew she works out. “There was an instance where he grabbed my thigh and stated, ‘Look at that muscle.’ ”
Noguera said Monday he did not touch the woman’s thigh.
“It was her calf,” he said. “That wasn’t appropriate, and I apologized for that. … That was it. I never touched her again.”