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Aug. 18, 2022

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Port of Seattle investigator sues employer for discrimination, retaliation

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Jun. 24—For the past decade, Tony Ramos has investigated internal complaints of discrimination and retaliation for the Port of Seattle. Now he claims that doing his job has subjected him to exactly such misconduct — by the Port.

Ramos sued the Port on Wednesday, alleging that his employer “failed to remedy and prevent the discrimination and retaliation that he had suffered at its hands,” seeking financial compensation and unspecified injunctive relief.

The Port “disputes the allegations that have been made in the lawsuit and stands behind the investigation policies and procedures that were followed,” Kathy Roeder, a Port spokesperson, said in a statement. “The Port places the highest importance on ensuring that harassment, discrimination, and retaliation have no place at the Port of Seattle.”

Ramos “spoke up to hold the Port’s leadership accountable for discrimination and retaliation, and for transparency,” attorney Jesse Wing said. “And for that, the Port has been punishing him, and interfering with his ability (to) perform his job.”

The lawsuit stretches back to 2018, when Ramos began investigating a complaint by a Port police officer, Yandle Moss, of discrimination by his superiors, including then-Chief Rod Covey. The day after Covey was informed the investigation could lead to disciplinary action, the lawsuit claims, Covey disparaged Ramos in an email to Port leaders.

After the Port reprimanded Covey for retaliating against Moss, the lawsuit states, Covey again complained about Ramos, saying he wanted Ramos removed from “anything to do with investigating allegations inside the police department” and that “he brings his own personal biases towards me.”

Ramos by that point had filed his own complaint against Covey for “retaliation and race discrimination,” according to the lawsuit. The Port subsequently removed Ramos from all of his duties relating to the police department.

The Port hired an outside investigator who spent about seven months reviewing Covey’s complaints before investigating Ramos’ complaints, according to the lawsuit, and ultimately didn’t find either responsible for violations of Port policy. The lawsuit quotes a colleague of Ramos, who said “I have grave concerns that Covey has been allowed to hijack the investigative process to intimidate, bully, and retaliate against Ramos and all of us who investigate” violations of Port policies.

Covey was placed on paid leave in June 2020 and fired last fall for violating Port policies, with the Port declining to provide specifics.

“In the strongest terms, I disagree with the findings of the investigation and the decision by the Port to terminate me,” he said at the time.

Covey did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, Ramos states that the Port denied his claims in a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — and then shared its response with an outside lawyer and a specially created Port team reviewing his and Covey’s complaints. This step “irreversibly tainted” the investigation, the lawsuit contends, “all but instructing [the lawyer] and the special review team as to the findings they should reach.”

In 2021, the Port sent out an employee survey and subsequently cited, among other findings, a “lack of safety and fear of retaliation when reporting racism and discrimination.” When Ramos shared his personal concerns in response to an invitation for feedback, his superiors said he had disobeyed a directive, placed him on paid leave and asked him to “work out a settlement to end his employment,” according to the lawsuit.

The leave was rescinded after Ramos pushed back, and he returned to work. Still, he claims, he continues to suffer the effects of Covey’s complaints and the Port’s handling of them.

Ramos is still barred from any investigation of the Port police, the lawsuit states. He has “received the Port’s message,” it adds. “He speaks up about discrimination or retaliation at his peril.”

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