Ex-employee sues Richland for discrimination

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldApril 4, 2014 

A former Richland electrical systems dispatcher is suing the city in federal court, claiming the city discriminated against him because of a disability.

C. Dwayne Deaton, who's seeking back pay and other damages, also alleges the city created a hostile work environment and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

The lawsuit, filed in March, doesn't specify Deaton's disability. His Seattle-based attorney, Susan B. Mindenbergs, declined to comment on the case beyond what's included in the complaint.

It also names Bob Hammond, Richland Energy Services director, and Gordon Beecher, who recently retired as human resources director.

In court documents, the city said Deaton presented a safety threat and was removed from his position for valid and legitimate reasons.

City attorney Heather Kintzley declined to comment on the matter to the Herald, except to note the city filed a timely response and intends to vigorously defend against the lawsuit.

Deaton was hired in 1994 as an electrical engineering assistant and was promoted to a couple of different positions before becoming an electrical systems dispatcher in 2010, his lawsuit said.

He was disqualified from that job in 2012.

He made some minor errors, including failing to change a mistake on a switching order resulting in a short-term power loss, but other employees who were involved in the errors or made more serious mistakes weren't disciplined, the lawsuit said.

The minor issues used to disqualify Deaton "were merely pretext for the city's intent to terminate his employment because of his disability" and he was "treated more harshly than other similarly situated non-disabled employees," the lawsuit said.

Deaton was issued a written warning the year before he was removed from his position, after two co-workers complained about hostile conduct. The lawsuit called those complaints "specious" and describes Deaton as being a victim of hostile acts.

The city, in court documents, denied it created a hostile work environment or discriminated against Deaton.

Deaton was disqualified from the dispatcher job "as a result of job performance issues placing at risk the safety of employees of the city, placing at risk public safety, and property damage," the city's answer said.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com

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