Former Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe. (File photo)

Former Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe. (File photo)

County settles 3 Roe lawsuits for $750K; a 4th is ongoing

Former prosecutor Mark Roe presided over a “hostile” office, lawsuits say. The county admitted no fault.

EVERETT — Snohomish County has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle three discrimination lawsuits filed by ex-employees who worked under former county prosecutor Mark Roe.

A fourth civil lawsuit is still ongoing in King County Superior Court.

The lawsuits focused on the office’s culture under Roe, who served as the county’s top prosecutor from 2009 until he retired at the end of 2018. The plaintiffs accused Roe of creating a hostile workplace, rife with insensitive comments, crude innuendos and derogatory slurs.

Roe declined to comment on the specifics of the settlements.

“As long as any of the cases are still active, I am not going to say anything more about them than what I did when the first was filed,” Roe wrote in an email Wednesday. “I will say that I have great trust and faith in the people handling these cases for the county, and complete confidence in the decisions they make.”

Roe previously called the bulk of the allegations made by the first plaintiff, Bob Lenz, “either completely false and untrue, or grossly twisted and distorted.”

Prosecutor Adam Cornell, who ran unopposed to become the prosecutor after Roe, said on Wednesday he would let the settlements “speak for themselves.”

“Since I took office, my leadership team and I have been committed to providing all employees the healthiest, most productive, responsible, and respectful work environment possible,” he said in an email to The Daily Herald.

Robin Williams Phillips, a Seattle attorney who represents three of the four plaintiffs, said the public still ought to keep a close eye on the office.

“Given the amount of money that Snohomish County taxpayers have paid out on these cases, they should be concerned with the ongoing conduct, particularly in the prosecuting attorney’s office,” she said.

The Snohomish County Council approved a $175,000 payout this month in the case of Lenz, the office’s former operations manager, who claimed that he faced retaliation for complaining about the workplace atmosphere, stating his office was moved and his responsibilities were taken away as a result.

The council in December approved payouts in two more cases brought by Roe’s former employees.

A $325,000 settlement ended a lawsuit filed by Kari King, a former victim advocate who claimed the county “did nothing to stop the discriminatory actions.”

Roe would “openly discuss his preference for skinny women,” refer to men in his office as “retards” or homophobic slurs and call heavyset women “cows,” according to King’s lawsuit.

The same month, a $250,000 payout was authorized in the case of former deputy prosecutor Theodor “Ted” Mueser, who alleged he suffered “adverse employment actions” after he complained about an environment that made men “feel threatened and harassed.”

Roe previously acknowledged in a written response to The Herald that he’d engaged in “playful banter” and acted casually outside of the courtroom, but strongly denied King’s claims.

“Most of what Ms. King alleges is patently false, and did not occur, and to the extent anything did occur or was said, her lawsuit embellishes, exaggerates, distorts, and takes them totally out of context,” he wrote.

The payouts in the King and Lenz cases did not include an admission of wrongdoing by the county, according to documents provided by the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office.

A resolution has yet to be reached in the case of former deputy prosecutor Dana Bittinger, who sued the county in October, echoing claims that Roe made inappropriate and vulgar comments during her employment from 2010 to 2019.

“Until the current litigation is concluded, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further about the pending case or any settlement agreements between the County and Plaintiffs,” Cornell said in an email.

Bittinger’s lawsuit accuses Roe of a slew of inappropriate phrases or actions, some of which were mentioned in the other lawsuits.

Bittinger also alleged that female attorneys were often “passed up for promotion,” and that she and other mothers working at the office were denied full maternity leave. According to the lawsuit, when Bittinger complained, Roe called her names and promoted younger, less-experienced male attorneys before her. The lawsuit states he also offered her less merit pay than male counterparts, and that after she complained in an employment satisfaction survey, he refused to greet her, sneered at her and called her names.

“Mark Roe’s retaliatory conduct was so severe,” Bittinger’s claim says, “the plaintiff was forced to take a medical leave of absence.”

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @rachel_m_riley

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