EVERETT — A second lawsuit has accused former Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe of using vulgar and discriminatory language on the job.
Longtime victim advocate Kari King alleged her former boss created a hostile workplace rife with insensitive comments and crude innuendos, “with malice or with reckless indifference to the protected rights of the plaintiff,” according to a complaint filed in May in King County Superior Court.
King alleged Roe referred to heavyset women as cows or hogs; criticized women’s diet choices; and advised attorneys he would “never put a fat chick on (a) jury (because) they were stupid and lazy.”
In a written response to the claim released to The Daily Herald, Roe acknowledged 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. “For example, I have long had valued friends, colleagues, and employees of all different shapes and sizes. The suggestions otherwise, or that I judge peoples’ worth so superficially is ridiculous.”
The former prosecutor retired at the end of 2018.
King is seeking $750,000 in damages.
Earlier this year an administrator in the office, Bob Lenz, sued his former employer on the grounds that Roe did not rein in inappropriate behavior among employees, made frequent crass jokes and retaliated when Lenz spoke up about it.
Roe denied those claims, too, as “either completely false and untrue, or grossly twisted and distorted.”
Lenz is seeking $900,000.
Both plaintiffs are represented by Robin Williams Phillips, a Seattle attorney who has brokered six-figure settlements with Snohomish County in recent cases involving sexual harassment.
Snohomish County is named as the lone defendant in both lawsuits. King worked as a victim advocate in the office from April 2003 to 2016, according to her complaint. Her job was to guide crime victims and their families through the often overwhelming maze of criminal court proceedings.
In her claim, King attributed 16 inappropriate phrases or actions to Roe, such as openly discussing a preference for skinny women; calling employees “(expletive) face”; referring to men in the office by a gay slur, and referring to one employee as “retarded”; telling a woman that if she wanted to advance in the office, she’d “need to start losing weight”; allowing a photo to be shared of a naked, obese defendant; having a habit of standing close to women in his gym shorts, with his foot up on a desk.
King alleged Roe laughed at demeaning sexual comments by deputy prosecutor Christopher Dickinson. About two years after King left her job, Roe fired Dickinson for drunken, sexually inappropriate, criminal behavior at a work conference last summer at Lake Chelan.
Both King and Roe referenced Dickinson sharing explicit photos of a girlfriend in a courtroom. In his statement to the press, Roe said he didn’t know about the photos until about the time of the firing.
King had undergone surgery in 2016, and she claimed she was denied a request to work part-time from home while recovering. She was hospitalized twice for complications from the surgery and requested time off again, according to her lawsuit.
“She was hounded to provide information regarding her ailments requiring plaintiff to share a self-photo depicting her health issues,” the complaint says.
She felt unfairly targeted by internal investigations, at Roe’s behest.
According to Roe, it was Lenz who oversaw much of the investigation into King’s conduct at work, and Lenz recommended multiple times that she be fired, but Roe declined to terminate her.
King claimed she tried to report the harassment to many people, who are not named in the lawsuit, but she was met with no effort to stop it. She left her job due to “the defendant’s failure to accommodate, the sexually abusive atmosphere and defendant’s retaliatory conduct,” according to the complaint.
King is seeking monetary damages for emotional pain and suffering, as well as a policy overhaul at the prosecutor’s office.
The county has not responded in court.
Roe served about a decade at the helm of the prosecutor’s office. Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell ran unopposed for the office in 2018.
Cornell responded to the new lawsuit this week in a written statement:
“Ms. King’s claims are focused upon the comments and other conduct of my predecessor, and frankly describe conduct that is highly inappropriate in any workplace. As I have stated often since taking office, I consider it particularly important that a prosecuting attorney’s office, which the public looks to for the enforcement of laws, operate at the highest level of professionalism and respect. Ms. King’s complaint is currently under review. The County takes this and all suits filed against it seriously and will professionally, responsibly, and vigorously defend all claims believed to be without merit.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.
Roe’s response to the lawsuit:
In 31 years at the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, as the Chief Criminal Deputy starting in 2002, and the elected prosecutor starting in 2009, I am not aware of anyone accusing me of creating a hostile work environment until now, and that includes Ms. King. The county has multiple avenues through which someone can complain about conduct by another that creates a hostile work environment, but nobody did. I believe that’s because I didn’t do or say things that warranted such complaints, either then, or now. 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. For example, I have long had valued friends, colleagues, and employees of all different shapes and sizes. The suggestions otherwise, or that I judge peoples’ worth so superficially is ridiculous.
It is true that I have a reputation for being unconventional and casual in my out of court dress, manner, and communication. I have always been much more informal and plain-spoken than most in my position. I have long engaged in playful banter with dozens of my coworkers and colleagues throughout the county and the state, and that didn’t change when I was elected.
Ms. King’s suggestion that I engaged in such banter with Chris Dickinson is also misleading. I did not. He and I were not friends, just coworkers. Further, I certainly had no knowledge that he was showing explicit pictures while at work until after his conduct at Lake Chelan last June, and terminated him immediately upon learning of his behavior. ( … ) I had little contact with Ms. King after becoming the elected prosecutor in 2009. I delegated that role to Joan Cavagnaro, the Chief Criminal Deputy who succeeded me, and Kameon Quillen, Ms. King’s direct supervisor. Bob Lenz conducted much of the investigation involving Ms. King’s workplace conduct, advised myself and management on personnel matters, and on multiple occasions recommended that she be terminated. Ms. Cavagnaro and I declined to do so.