$125K settlement reached in second morgue discrimination lawsuit

EVERETT — A Snohomish County death investigator has reached a $125,000 settlement over allegations of workplace discrimination at the county morgue, following a similar case last year.

The County Council unanimously approved the agreement with Deborah Hollis on Monday. Under terms of the settlement, Hollis gets to keep her job and will also receive forensics training in Texas at the county’s expense.

A nondisclosure agreement bars either side from discussing the terms. The Daily Herald obtained a copy of the settlement through the state’s Public Records Act.

The resolution to the case follows the departure of Dr. Norman Thiersch, the forensic pathologist who resigned last month after leading the Medical Examiner’s Office since 1998.

Hollis’ suit not only named the county as a defendant, but Thiersch as well. Hollis, who had worked for Thiersch since 2006, accused her boss of tolerating sexist language, showing favoritism toward less-qualified male employees and failing to accommodate her diabetes. She claimed she was subjected to retaliation for trying to bring workplace problems to light.

Former county death investigator Shannon Impett made similar allegations against Thiersch in a suit she settled with the county last year for $495,000.

Both suits also accused Thiersch of losing his temper during autopsies and roughly handling internal organs, causing blood to splash onto his assistants.

Both women were represented by Seattle attorney Judith Lonnquist.

Though Thiersch enjoyed respect from other forensic scientists and many law enforcement officials, management problems made his tenure at the county a rough one. The scrutiny of the normally behind-the-scenes office gained public attention starting in 2010.

Early this year, county administrators brought in retired Lake Forest Park Police Chief Dennis Peterson on a temporary assignment to shore up the office’s day-to-day operations, removing Thiersch from that role.

The county in August hired Dan Christman, a former Bothell police detective with a strong forensics background, to take over for Peterson on a permanent basis.

The office has 14 employees and an annual budget of $2.2 million. Its staff played a huge role in the response to the March 22 Oso mudslide by identifying all 43 victims recovered from the debris field.

The office has hired a forensic pathologist to temporarily fill some of Thiersch’s duties. Christman said he’s looking to restructure the office before hiring a permanent replacement.

For 2015, County Executive John Lovick’s proposed budget seeks to add two staff positions at the office.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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