EVERETT — Former Everett City Councilman Ron Gipson is suing four women who work with him as Snohomish County juvenile corrections officers over complaints of on-the-job sexual harassment they made against him.
As a result of the misconduct allegations — many of which an outside investigator deemed credible — Gipson spent a year and a half on leave from his juvenile corrections job. He later lost re-election to his city post after 20 years in office.
Gipson admitted to “locker room talk” with men at work, but denied harassing any women.
His recent lawsuit also seeks to refute a rape allegation that one of the women made against him during a workplace investigation four years ago.
The co-worker “accused Gipson of sexually raping her in an encounter outside of the workplace which had occurred several years earlier,” Gipson’s own legal complaint says. “This alleged act of rape was never reported to law enforcement. No formal complaint was ever made to any representative of Snohomish County.”
The assault accusation wasn’t scrutinized further by the county, as it involved an allegation from 10 years earlier outside the workplace.
In a response filed by her attorney this month, the co-worker stands by her story. She says she didn’t report anything to authorities at the time because Gipson, “was in a position of political power and she feared he would harass and intimidate her, and potentially put her job at risk using his influence and intimidation.”
The suit was filed Dec. 8 in Snohomish County Superior Court. Gipson and his wife, Shirley Gipson, are seeking unspecified damages for invasion of privacy, emotional distress, defamation and loss of consortium with his family.
Neither Gipson nor his attorney, Rodney Moody of Everett, returned calls for comment last week.
An earlier suit, filed by Gipson in federal court, was dismissed last year over procedural issues. It named the county as a defendant, but the current one does not.
In an answer to the new lawsuit, an attorney defending three of the women says they acted within their free speech rights. They point out that Gipson was an elected official and, as such, should be subject to a higher level of scrutiny. They’re asking the court to dismiss the case, order compensation for legal expenses and award each up to $10,000 in damages.
Gipson was Everett’s longest-serving sitting councilmember when he lost re-election in 2015, after two decades in office. The victor in that race, Cassie Franklin, won election last year to become Everett’s mayor.
Gipson has worked as a corrections officer at Denney Juvenile Justice Center since 1995.
He spent a year and a half on administrative leave, starting in 2014. During that time, the county hired a contract attorney to conduct a sprawling investigation of various workplace complaints about Gipson, his accusers and others at Denney.
In his lawsuit, Gipson, who is black, says he was treated differently from white employees who were placed on leave. He claims that he and a supervisor, who also is black, were escorted from the building in full view of other employees, rather than more privately.
Gipson returned to work at Denney in 2015 after receiving a 30-day suspension without pay. Some of the complaints about his behavior were deemed unfounded.
As a defendant, Gipson’s suit also names the Mill Creek lawyer whose firm conducted the workplace investigation for the county. Through staff at her office, the attorney, Marcella Fleming Reed, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Reed’s investigation looked into 13 separate complaints involving 22 people at Denney. The law firm interviewed 76 witnesses, some multiple times, for 171 total interviews. The work cost the county more than $500,000 in legal bills and other expenses.
Three of the women named in Gipson’s suit sued the county in 2014, claiming they were subject to gender-based discrimination at work. They alleged their employer didn’t take adequate steps to protect them from some male co-workers, including Gipson. The case ended with a $750,000 settlement. Almost half the amount went toward legal costs.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @NWhaglund.