Sexual harassment claim filed against juvenile justice center

EVERETT — Three female employees at Denney Juvenile Justice Center have filed a damage claim alleging “severe and pervasive sexual harassment” at work.

The claim accuses several managers, supervisors and co-workers of inappropriate behavior. It identifies only one person by name — Ron Gipson, the Everett City councilman who has worked as a juvenile corrections officer at Denney since 1996.

Gipson called the allegations “completely devoid of facts.”

“As it reads, it is absolutely untrue,” Gipson said in a prepared statement. “Until they come forward with actual facts against my co-workers and me, I cannot respond to these false allegations.”

Gipson confirmed that he’s on paid administrative leave from his county job. He declined to say why, or whether the leave is related to the allegations in the legal claim.

“I work with some very good, decent and hard-working people,” he said.

The claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, was filed with the county Feb. 10. The three women who brought it all have worked at Denney since the late 1990s. The Herald is not naming them because of the nature of the allegations. They’re asking for $450,000 each in damages, plus attorney’s fees.

Representing them is Seattle attorney Robin Williams Phillips.

“I’m embarrassed for the county and I’m embarrassed for the city,” Phillips said. “The inappropriate conduct at Denney has been going on for more than a decade and management is condoning it, because it hasn’t stopped.”

Under state law, claimants must wait 60 days after filing a damage claim before they can sue a public agency.

The same attorney also represents Tamara Dutton, an ex-mistress of former County Executive Aaron Reardon. Dutton last year filed a $750,000 claim against the county about her workplace atmosphere in the Human Services Department.

Phillips also represented Dutton in a 2004 lawsuit against the county. Dutton at the time worked as a juvenile corrections officer at Denney, where she was one of three plaintiffs who alleged sexual discrimination and retaliation by male co-workers.

The county in 2006 settled with Dutton and the other plaintiffs for $500,000, split three ways.

The latest allegations from a trio of female Denney employees cites a violation of Washington State Human Rights laws. It alleges the women were subjected to physical sexual harassment, slurs and an atmosphere of intimidation. It says they suffered retaliation when they attempted to notify managers.

“These allegations are not just inappropriate comments being made, but also inappropriate touching,” Phillips said.

The claim also alleged that slurs and physical harassment occurred so many times they were “too numerous to recount.”

Gipson said the accusations are short on detail. “No specifics, no dates, no times, no events and no incidents,” he wrote. “No facts to support this claim.”

Gipson also said he was unaware of the claims against himself and his co-workers until a reporter provided him a copy of the paperwork. He said he has waited weeks for the county to respond to his official requests for information.

Gipson, 56, is the longest-serving current member of the Everett City Council.

Since winning his first election in 1995, he’s staked out political ground as a voice for blue-collar workers. He’s known for standing his ground, even at the risk of appearing stubborn. He’s often the lone holdout in 6-1 council votes.

Gipson also has developed a reputation as one of the more politically conservative council members. In 2007, he proposed shaming men accused of prostitution by putting their face on Everett’s local-access TV station and the city website. The proposal failed to gain traction.

He’s the son of Carl Gipson, a civil rights trailblazer who became the first African-American city council member in Everett, where he served for 24 years.

Before entering political life, Ron Gipson received regional fame as a fullback with the 1978 Huskies football team that won the Rose Bowl.

County officials declined to comment on the damage claim against Gipson or the reasons for his having been placed on leave.

“The county is aware of that paperwork,” county spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said. “We cannot discuss it any further because it is an ongoing investigation.”

Hover did confirm that two juvenile justice center employees are on administrative leave for personnel matters. The county declined to name the employees or elaborate on what prompted the Equal Employment Opportunity investigations.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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