Clark County loses discrimination suit

Jury awards female engineer more than $250K in damages

By Jake Thomas, Columbian staff writer

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A jury has determined that staff in the Clark County Community Development Department defamed and discriminated against a female Vancouver engineer, causing her to lose business.

On Thursday, a jury ruled in favor of Anne Anderson and awarded her $150,000 for defamation, $100,000 for discrimination, and $1,100 for interfering with a contract.

The jury’s decision stems from a 2015 lawsuit filed by Anderson, principal engineer of Anderson Structural Engineering, who said she reluctantly filed the suit after staff in the department subjected her to an arbitrary and higher set of standards when she presented engineering intended to meet the building code.

“It’s been a five-year process,” she said. “It’s been a lot of little steps that never got anywhere.”

Anderson said that she’s been an engineer for 30 years and said she’d always been able to overcome any discrimination by working harder.

“Once I solved their problem, any sort of discrimination goes away,” she said. “I’m qualified. Once you can prove that, 99.9 percent of the time it’s over.”

But she said that staff at Community Development required her to perform unnecessary work on building permit applications and was held to a higher standard than what the code requires, which she said added to the cost of projects.

She said that in 2014, Community Development rejected her engineering on a project, and she got word back that staff spoke poorly of her to a client. She said that the staff member implied that she was “playing God” with her engineering stamp, suggesting she was signing off on whatever documents builders wanted.

Anderson said that she eventually hired a lawyer in the spring of 2014 to meet with county staff. She said that Community Development only subjected her to worse scrutiny.

She said that the catalyst for the lawsuit occurred after she was fired by a client in 2015 after she held her ground when Community Development challenged her engineering. She acquired emails through a public records request that she said showed Community Development staff repeatedly demeaned her work. She said county staff refused to meet with her but would meet with male engineers.

The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Chief Building Official James Muir, who was named in the suit.

“It’s been tremendously stressful,” she said. “It’s taken so much of my time to fight this. I had no idea it would take this long.”