September 28, 2012 in City, Region

State senate lawsuit over Roach settled

Rachel La Corte Associated Press
 

OLYMPIA — The Washington state Senate will review its workplace policies and has reaffirmed its sanctions against a Republican senator under a settlement announced today.

Mike Hoover, a senior Republican attorney for the Senate who had originally been seeking $1.75 million from a hostile work environment claim he filed earlier this year, did not receive any money under the settlement.

However, under the terms of the agreement dated Wednesday, in return for Hoover dropping the complaint, the state reaffirmed its commitment to its policies addressing a respectful workplace, as well as reaffirmed sanctions against Sen. Pam Roach, R- Auburn, that limit her interactions with staff.

“Some things are more important than money,” Hoover wrote in an emailed statement. “Among them, treating people with decency and respect.”

Hoover, who has been on leave since April, says he was subjected to a hostile and abusive workplace because of Roach. She was banned from the Republican caucus two years ago after an investigation determined that she had mistreated staff.

GOP leaders implemented policies barring Roach from the caucus room and deemed her ineligible to participate in caucus votes. The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, which oversees personnel issues, issued a reprimand on behalf of the entire Senate in early 2010, and ordered that Roach should have no direct contact with most Senate staff.

While Roach had received prior reprimands for her interactions with staff, the January 2010 punishment followed numerous incidents with Hoover, culminating with an “unusually vicious attack” in 2009, according to the 15-page complaint Hoover filed with the Senate this year. In that incident, the document says, Roach yelled at Hoover during a meeting with the rest of the caucus.

The complaint alleged that Roach has targeted Hoover since 2003, and that during that first year, she “regularly yelled at him, demanded that he swear loyalty to her, and threatened to have him fired if he crossed her.”

Hoover had argued that the sanctions were “improperly removed” when she was allowed back into the caucus around the time of a key budget vote in the Legislature this year.

Democrats hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, but earlier this year, three Democrats stood with Republicans on a GOP-crafted budget plan that passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Roach also voted with them. Documents show one letter to Roach, dated Feb. 29, invited her back into the caucus, and a second letter, saying that “caucus sanctions” were lifted, was dated March 2, the same day the Senate began debate on the budget.

The Senate has said that the sanctions against Roach interacting with staff, as set by the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, had not, in fact, been lifted.

Roach was out of the country on Friday but emailed a statement saying that the accusations against her were false.

“Political hate aimed at hurting me is wrong and needs to be addressed,” she wrote.

The settlement says that the Senate will review its current policy and look for areas to improve it, including designating a senator from each party for staff to confidentially discuss workplace problems with.

“While I hope it will never be needed, this is a change that I think would go a long way towards keeping an appropriate balance in member and staff interaction,” Hoover wrote.

Under the settlement, Hoover will not return to the Senate, but the Senate will pay his attorney fees and restore his leave time that he took while the case played out.

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, who chairs the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, said she was pleased an agreement was reached.

“I think the settlement is in the interest of the taxpayers and is equitable to all parties involved,” she said.

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