By Diana Hefley and Rikki King Herald Writers
EVERETT — Three Everett police officers are suing the city alleging that they were denied promotions based on their race and subjected to a hostile work environment when they complained about being passed over.
One officer, retired Sgt. Richard Wolfington, alleges that he was forced to quit in February after 20 years with the department. He claims that he was repeatedly skipped over for promotions in favor of white officers. Wolfington is Native American.
He also alleges that Capt. David Fudge retaliated against him when Wolfington complained that Fudge was violating department policies. He said the mistreatment caused his health issues.
Two other officers, Sgt. Manuel Garcia and Sherman Mah, also allege that their civil rights were violated when they weren’t promoted.
“Everett’s police department is in charge of upholding the law, not breaking it,” Bellevue attorney Victoria Vreeland said. “City leaders were informed about these repeated civil rights violations and retaliation, but did nothing to correct it.”
Garcia was the first Hispanic and bilingual officer in the department. He started in 1988 and has been a sergeant since 2002. Mah has been with Everett since 1995. He has sought promotions for 15 years and has been skipped over multiple times, according to the lawsuit. He claims he wasn’t promoted because he is Asian-American.
All three officers allege that the city ignored and failed to investigate their complaints.
Police Chief Kathy Atwood and Fudge also are named in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Attorneys for the complaining officers initially filed a claim for damages with the city on Oct. 10. The documents say each officer could seek $1 million or more.
The city plans to fight the lawsuit, spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said Wednesday in a prepared statement.
“The city investigated the plaintiffs’ allegations and determined they were without merit,” she said.
The Everett Police Department conducts employee evaluations and promotions based on officers who are the most capable and effective leaders, she said.
“It is important to underscore that the Everett Police Department’s core values include integrity, professionalism and honor, and the department is dedicated to providing a supportive, nondiscriminatory work environment,” she said.
Garcia alleges that he has repeatedly reported to his superiors derogatory remarks made about his race. In the initial claim, Garcia alleged he was told by supervisors not to attend National Night Out events in a neighborhood where “rich people” live, but to instead stick to an event sponsored by a Hispanic community group.
Garcia in 2010 ranked first on the eligibility roster for a lieutenant position. He said he was passed over for a white officer who was ranked third on the list.
In 2011, he was promoted to lieutenant and placed on a standard six-month probation. He alleges that Fudge “treated him more harshly and put extreme pressure and unreasonable expectations on him which Fudge did not place on Caucasian lieutenants on probation or otherwise,” Vreeland wrote in the lawsuit.
Garcia reported to his chain of command that he believed he was being unfairly targeted. He claims neither the city nor the police department investigated his complaints of unfair and unequal treatment.
At the end of the probationary period, Fudge recommended that Garcia be demoted back to sergeant. The lawsuit says that Atwood was aware of Garcia’s work history, good performance and “long-time work dedicated to improving the Everett (Police Department’s) relationship with the minority community.”
Garcia is well-known in Everett as the face of the annual Casino Road Futbol Academy. The camp offers soccer lessons and mentoring to hundreds of children primarily from low-income or minority families, especially from south Everett. Before coming to the U.S., Garcia played professional soccer in Mexico.
Atwood approved the demotion without any further investigation, according to the lawsuit. Garcia claims that he is the only officer in at least the last 20 years to be demoted immediately after the expiration of the probationary period. He alleges white officers have been given extensions or transferred to different supervisors.
Wolfington and Mah also allege that promotions were given to white officers who ranked lower than them on the eligibility list. They also say that they weren’t appointed to acting positions to gain experience for higher levels.
In one instance, Wolfington alleges that another sergeant was promoted to acting lieutenant over him even though the other officer hadn’t sought the promotion and wasn’t on the eligibility register, according to the lawsuit.
Wolfington claims that Fudge retaliated against him when he reported that the captain was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate female officer. Wolfington said he complained about Fudge treating him and Garcia more harshly. He said the city ignored his complaints.
Wolfington said he “forced to call in sick numerous times” because of ongoing mistreatment. He said he was disciplined for his increased use of sick leave.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.