MONROE — The state Department of Corrections has agreed to pay $600,000 to a woman who alleged sexual harassment by a Monroe prison psychologist while she worked there as an intern, her attorney said.
The lawsuit brought by Tressa Grummer against the state DOC and Robert Carsrud was set to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Seattle this month. On Jan. 10, the case was dismissed due to the settlement.
In an email, a Corrections spokesperson declined to comment, but confirmed the settlement amount. The agreement is not an admission of wrongdoing, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Michael Subit, told The Daily Herald.
From 2014 to 2018, while getting her doctorate in psychology at Northwest University, Grummer worked as an unpaid intern at the Monroe Correctional Complex, according to court documents. At the prison, she provided therapy to incarcerated men.
Her first supervisor became her mentor. When she came back in March 2016, she interviewed with a different doctor, the director of the internship program, Carsrud. Throughout the interview, he reportedly stared at Grummer intently, unnerving her, according to the lawsuit.
Carsrud, who unsuccessfully ran for Bothell City Council in 2015, recommended she work with a different psychologist to diversify her experience, her attorney wrote in court filings. She requested to work under a doctor in the Special Offender Unit, but instead, Carsrud, who was 30 years older than her, selected Grummer to work with him.
She worked 27 hours a week, meeting with five to seven inmates per week. She also met with Carsrud once a week.
“Virtually every interaction Dr. Grummer had with Dr. Carsrud was tainted by his sexualization of their supervisory relationship and demeaning objectification,” her attorney Sean Phelan wrote in court papers.
For example, he attributed the intern’s success in her work to her looks. He said the incarcerated men were just excited to see a “pretty young girl,” the lawsuit alleged. Later, he told her if she wore low-cut shirts and tight skirts, she’d have even more success.
When Grummer told Carsrud she wanted to be a sports psychologist, he laughed.
“Good luck doing that as a woman,” he reportedly responded.
While the intern worked in her office, Carsrud would stare at her without saying anything. He told her he was “just enjoying the view,” according to court documents.
Carsrud saw Grummer “not as a professional but as a sex object,” wrote Phelan, of the Seattle law firm Frank Freed Subit & Thomas. She dreaded encountering the doctor.
In late 2017, Carsrud reportedly wrote three evaluations for Grummer at the same time, claiming she didn’t complete the goals of her internship due to health-related absences and “the manner in which she had handled them,” according to court filings.
When the intern reported Carsrud’s behavior to the prison’s health services manager, the manager dismissed it and attributing it to “social awkwardness,” court papers show. She told Grummer to learn to work with different types of people. She added those interactions would be common in her career.
Grummer reported the sexual harassment to Northwest University, leading to an investigation into Carsrud, who was an adjunct faculty member there, according to court documents. In an interview with school officials, Carsrud did not deny making comments about the intern’s beauty.
The university concluded Grummer’s complaint was substantiated. The inquiry revealed persistent complaints about his supervision. The school cut ties with Carsrud.
Meanwhile, the state DOC took months to initiate an investigation of its own, Phelan reported. It took another month for Corrections to suspend his clinical privileges pending the inquiry. In January 2019, Corrections determined the intern’s claim was unfounded.
Later that year, Grummer graduated from Northwest University. She now works as a psychologist.
“My hope is this settlement will send a message to DOC to take future harassment reports seriously,” Grummer said in a press release. “I also hope it will reassure women and others experiencing discriminatory workplace treatment that even in your darkest of moments, when you are feeling silenced, you still always have a voice.”
In an interview Thursday, Subit said his client’s “entire self esteem was undermined” by the harassment. He said she’s pleased by the settlement. It “allows her to bring closure to a very painful part of her life.”
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.
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