OLYMPIA — The Washington Department of Corrections has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a lawsuit from a former intern who reported being subjected to a “sexually hostile work environment” under the supervision of a psychologist at a state prison in Snohomish County.
Tressa Grummer was an unpaid intern at the Monroe Correctional Complex, which houses 2,400 inmates of various security levels, while working toward a Ph.D. in counseling psychology at Northwest University.
Robert Carsrud was a psychologist at the department and Grummer’s internship supervisor from November 2016 to December 2017, according to court records.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in 2019, Grummer alleged Carsrud made comments about her appearance and clothes, stared at her and “repeatedly dismissed her success with male inmates as being the result of her being ‘a cute, young girl.'”
Court records show U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik dismissed the case in light of the resolution Jan. 19.
“My hope is this settlement will send a message to DOC to take future harassment reports seriously,” Grummer said in a statement. “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.”
The department confirmed the settlement amount — which Grummer’s lawyers announced last week — but would not provide further details about the settlement or Carsrud’s departure in response to questions from The Seattle Times, instead sending a reporter a link to request public records.
“DOC does not typically comment on pending, current or past litigation, but we take all allegations of sexual harassment seriously and investigate them thoroughly,” said Tobby Hatley, media relations manager for the Department of Corrections, in an email.
Hatley said Carsrud left the department March 1, 2022.
Grummer told Corrections employees that she was uncomfortable working with Carsrud but the department didn’t take any remedial action, she alleged in her lawsuit.
In a meeting in September 2017, Carsrud “told Dr. Grummer that he couldn’t be sure if a male inmate had improved his behavior because of her therapeutic techniques or because it was fun to talk to a pretty, young woman every week,” the lawsuit alleged. “He also told her that if she wore low-cut shirts or tight skirts, her success rate would be even higher.”
The state, defending the department and Carsrud, said in court documents in September it was “incumbent” on Carsrud to ensure Grummer was aware of the implications of being a young woman psychologist in a setting with all-male patients, including how patients can project feelings onto a provider.
“In the context of an all-male correctional institution, those very issues could arise when inmates chose to attend counseling sessions and endorse improvement in order to spend time with a pretty, young woman,” state lawyers wrote. “It is not sexual harassment for a male psychologist to raise these topics with a female doctoral candidate in order to further her education and professional development.”
Grummer reported the harassment in December 2017 and switched supervisors that month, but Corrections did not start investigating until several months later, according to court records.
The department’s investigation, completed in November 2018, found Grummer’s concerns were not substantiated, but an investigation conducted by Northwest University months prior found they were, said Sean Phelan, one of Grummer’s lawyers.
“It was really a study in contrasts,” Phelan said, adding that the university investigated promptly and eventually cut ties with Carsrud.
Court records show the state had opposed allowing Northwest University’s investigation to be considered by a jury, but Lasnik decided Jan. 5 to allow that investigation onto the record.