A Cowlitz County road crew worker will receive $185,000 after settling a gender discrimination suit this month, her attorney said Friday.
Barbara A. Wilson sued the county in July of last year, saying the public works department passed her over for promotion at least four times because she is a woman.
Wilson, who joined the department as an accountant clerk in 1985, sued in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. She claimed that other men who were far less experienced and had less seniority were promoted to road crew foreman. Wilson said in her suit that there are three women and 55 men in the road department and that there has never been a female road crew foreman.
“The folks in that decision-making role were biased against her,” said Wilson’s attorney, Thane Tienson of Portland.
In the lawsuit, Wilson also said she had filled in as a road crew foreman and that no one had complained about her performance as a leader. Yet, county officials gave Wilson conflicting reasons why they hadn’t picked her to lead road crews, according to the suit.
It’s possible, Tienson said, that county officials may not have realized their bias against hiring a woman to lead a road crew, but that’s no excuse in this era.
“Those days are long gone,” he said. “We now realize that women can and do — and Barbara certainly did — an excellent job being a foreman. She served in that capacity many, many times.”
The lawsuit was taken up by a neutral mediator in mid-November and was settled early this month, according to court documents.
Tienson said his client, who is still employed as a road crewmember, was awarded a one-time payment of $185,000 in the settlement. The county did not admit fault.
In settlements such as these, Cowlitz County pays only its insurance deductible and its insurance pool and reinsurance coverage picks up the rest of the cost.
Dale Kamerrer, a Tumwater attorney who represented the county in the suit, said Wilson has not been promoted, but added, “I don’t know what the future is going to bring.”
Tienson, however, said it’s unlikely that Wilson, who is about seven years away from retirement, ever will be promoted. The current road foremen are relatively young, and the county is more likely to reduce the number of supervisors in the department to cut costs, he said.