The city of Portland voted Wednesday to approve a settlement in a civil rights case against the Bureau of Development Services. Employees Lisa Washington and Roxie Granville, both African American women, say they were unfairly targeted for being seen together outside of the office.
The women's attorney, Portland civil rights lawyer Dan Snyder, said what bureau administrators called an "incident" amounted to nothing more than two co-workers meeting for lunch. At the time of the alleged discrimination, in February of 1997, the women were the only Black inspectors in the bureau, Snyder said. He contends the women were victims of veiled racial bias.
"No one in Portland, Oregon is going to use the 'N' word … instead it's more subtle," Snyder said.
Commissioner Randy Leonard, whose office oversees the bureau, but who was not in office when the lawsuit was first filed, said the women were breaking policy by attending worksites together when one of them was assigned to the office. Leonard said he does not believe any supervisors targeted the women because they were Black, citing that bureau Director Paul Scarlett is African American and was named as one of the discriminators. He did say existing policies were not being enforced uniformly, although the lawsuit contends no such policy existed until 2001.
The lawsuit has resulted in some changes at the department. Leonard said he created a new position in charge of cultural competency and affirmative action programs -- a non-supervisory role in the director's office headed by Mikal Shabazz -- and began training to ensure workplace rules are enforced uniformly and managers are held to a minimum standard.
The case was being appealed by the city, but Wednesday's approval of a settlement will take the issue out of court. After an initial verdict in the women's favor, Snyder said Granville continued to experience scrutiny related to the case. Granville settled for $300,000, which includes medical bills, lost wages and compensatory damages, and will no longer be working for the city. Washington settled for $170,000 for medical bills, lost wages and compensatory damages.
Leonard said the city decided to settle the lawsuit because managers at the bureau found it nearly impossible to enforce even the most blatant policy violations against one of the women. Snyder said his clients were emotionally distraught over the situation, but were satisfied with the settlement. The intended result of discrimination lawsuits, Snyder said, is to bring discrimination into the public eye and to "make people who discriminate responsible for their actions."