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News / Northwest

Ex-health district director accused of secretly videotaping Tri-Cities staff

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: May 13, 2024, 7:47am

KENNEWICK — Three women who have served as senior managers at the Benton Franklin Health District say the district failed to protect them from years of discrimination and sexual harassment by the district’s former administrator.

Each filed a tort claim with Benton and Franklin counties of Washington, saying that they were secretly videotaped by former Administrator Jason Zaccaria.

Zaccaria resigned in July 2023 days after being placed on administrative leave by the health district board. No reason for the administrative leave was made public by the board.

But the Seattle law firm of Schroeter Goldmark Bender now says that Kennewick police were alerted after Zaccaria was placed on leave that the health district had discovered extensive pornography, videos of minors and recorded footage of staff on electronic devices in his office, according to the documents.

The law firm said it does not expect any criminal charges to be pursued, due to the statute of limitations and limited resources that prevented a full investigation into Zaccaria’s activities.

The three women filing the claims said they had not known or consented to being recorded, according to information from the law firm. They also are concerned that their offices may have been bugged, according to information from the law firm.

They are accusing Zaccaria of discriminating against them and sexually harassing them and other female employees for at least a decade.

Lisa Wight, the former senior manager of human resources for the district; Bonnie Hall, the district’s contracts and billing manager; and Angee Chavez, a human resources and payroll coordinator, collectively worked for the health district for 73 years, said attorney Elizabeth Hanley.

They believed that because of Zaccaria’s supervisory role and their management positions there was no one to whom they could report Zacarria’s behavior, according to the law firm.

“The Benton Franklin Health District allowed a perpetrator of abuse to hold a position of power instead of fully addressing the harm they let happen,” Wight said.

Benton Franklin Health District officials said Friday they had received claims for damages that are unsubstantiated.

Health district: ‘Unsubstantiated allegations’

“The board of health and district deny any unsubstantiated allegations that there were any complaints related to Mr. Zaccaria’s behavior in the workplace prior to his resignation from the district,” it said in a statement.

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“The district and board of health are committed to ensuring a safe and secure workplace for all employees,” it said. “Employees are encouraged to report any inappropriate behaviors pursuant to the established policies in place for the district.”

Zaccaria could not be reached Friday about the allegations.

Hall said that the women were filing claims not only for the damages they suffered but to ensure practices that enable people like Zaccaria are stopped.

“We want to make sure employees can feel safe in their workplace,” Hall said.

Chavez said that the claims put employers on notice that employees “cannot and should not be punished. Instead, employers should protect their employees.”

Eight months before Zaccaria resigned union leaders for the health district staff said workers had no confidence in Zaccaria.

The union, PROTEC17, said Zaccaria had a history of firing workers suddenly with little justification given to senior staff who told Zaccaria they disagreed with his policies and decisions.

“Staff are left unstable and in fear to work at an agency where voicing one’s professional opinion appears to lead to termination or retribution from the administrator,” said a letter PROTEC17 submitted to the health board.

The letter said that Zaccaria had shown favoritism to an employee, promoting them to one of the highest paid positions in the agency “despite widespread backlash from both unionized and non-represented staff.”

At that time, Zaccaria told the Tri-City Herald that the letter had many inaccuracies.