Politics & Government

House settles lawsuit with 3 former staffers for $120,000 without admitting error

A wrongful termination lawsuit brought by three former House Republican staffers has been settled for a total of $120,000, state House Republican Caucus chief of staff Lisa Fenton said Friday.

The settlement was reached during a mediation session on Wednesday. It closes a three-year battle since House GOP leaders fired four staffers and three sued — including John S. (Jack) Archer, John Charba and William Engelhardt, who was also known as Bill Taylor. Among the allegations were age discrimination and pressure on staffers to work on members’ campaigns and attend fundraisers, but a judge last month dismissed all but the age claims from Archer and Charba.

The agreement bars further legal proceedings, and the House admits no wrongdoing, Fenton said. But the House Chief Clerk’s Office will send a letter to Archer thanking him for his 17 years of service, she said.

“I think it’s safe to say we are happy we’re cleared of any wrongdoing. It’s good to put it all behind us,” Fenton said. “We wish nothing but good things for the plaintiffs.”

Steve Lacy, the East Wenatchee lawyer who filed the lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court, declined to comment. In an email, Lacy said he had not seen language of the final agreement and was concerned about breaching its provisions.

Fenton said the state agreed to settle because costs would have grown at trial and gone even higher if appealed. Each man sought $500,000 initially, and the suit named former House GOP leader Richard DeBolt, who still serves in the Legislature, and caucus staffers who later left the House. The payout is split among the three plaintiffs, who will pay legal fees out of it, Fenton said.

Archer was a respected, senior budget analyst for the partisan caucus, and his termination came as a surprise to then-Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Thurston County, who was ranking GOP member on House Appropriations and worked directly with him.

The firings were described initially by House Republican leaders as a staff restructuring. Earlier this month, House Chief Clerk Barbara Baker described the firings as “not particularly humane,” but Fenton disagreed.

“Any time you have to make a decision to let a staff member go it’s a difficult thing to do. It’s also important to have a team of staff that will work well together and in a positive way. I think we have learned a lot through the process,” she said. “It’s just good to put it all behind us and move forward positively.”