OLYMPIA — The Port of Olympia director who secured the Swire Coca-Cola bottling agreement — one of the largest real estate deals in the port’s history — and then was put on leave days later has responded with a tort claim against his employer.
The tort claim for damages, which is considered a preliminary step before filing a lawsuit, was submitted this month by Allyn Roe, the port’s business development and real estate director. A copy of the tort claim was shared with The Olympian.
Spokeswoman Joy Johnston said the port would not comment for this story because it does not comment on personnel matters.
Although the tort claim was filed against the Port of Olympia, the narrative associated with the claim largely points the finger at Executive Director Sam Gibboney, accusing her of retaliatory behavior and creating a hostile workplace.
“Mr. Roe has suffered ongoing retaliatory mistreatment by Ms. Gibboney, directly and/or by and through Mr. (Ben) McDonald as the HR Director, distress, fear, anxiety and humiliation,” the claim reads. “He has not been officially terminated by the port, and his complaints and reports have not been investigated or resolved.”
This isn’t the first time port staff has taken issue with Gibboney’s management style. The tort claim says that during her tenure (Gibboney was hired in late 2018), 33 employees have left the port, and another 22 signed a vote of no confidence letter last summer that was sent to the port commission. Roe was among those who signed the letter.
Following that disclosure, Roe alleges that he has been subjected to a series of retaliatory measures.
After the no-confidence letter was set to the commission, Commissioner Joe Downing allegedly responded to it, wanting to set up a meeting with Roe and another port employee.
Gibboney learned of the meeting and allegedly told Roe not to attend.
“She advised that he must decline the request from the commissioner, and that a staff member could not accept such an invitation without her knowledge and permission,” the tort claim reads.
“Shortly thereafter, Ms. Gibboney directed all staff not to speak with the Board of Commissioners,” according to the claim.
The port has a three-member commission, all of whom are elected officials. Its members are Downing, Bob Iyall and Amy Evans Harding.
Other retaliatory steps alleged by Roe:
- Gibboney suddenly mandated that Roe work in the office five days a week in an office next to her.
“He reminded her that his team works from a separate location, the Olympia airport, and that he had one day/week remote work even pre-COVID. She responded that it was her decision.”
- During a retreat of port directors and senior managers, Gibboney allegedly began to argue about the no-confidence vote. Roe pointed out the retreat was not the appropriate venue for the discussion.
“The discussion was combative and elevated, with Ms. Gibboney openly arguing the merits and process of the no confidence statement with Mr. Roe. These public attacks, challenges and arguments against him by Ms. Gibboney were extreme and so difficult on Mr. Roe that the facilitator (of the meeting) said she was surprised he did not leave the retreat during that session and thanked him for having the courage to stay.”
Roe also alleges that his request for workplace protections and a whistleblower’s complaint were not addressed. He finally was presented with two options: resign or be terminated. But then in December, he was suddenly placed on administrative leave until Jan. 4, although the letter he received from Gibboney did not explain what would happen after that date.
Roe says his attorney worked with the port to extend leave to Jan. 13 to try to resolve the situation, but nothing was resolved. Then, he was directed to return to work on Jan. 17 at the port’s downtown offices, with no remote work permitted and to report to another person.
“This is essentially a demotional step, while being in the office right next to hers,” the tort claim reads. “To (Roe’s) knowledge, the port has not investigated his complaints at all, and has not referred them to a neutral, outside investigator who does not report to Ms. Gibboney.”
Roe currently is on sick leave, according to the claim.