A former parks department spokeswoman for the city of Spokane is demanding up to $1 million from the city, accusing officials of age discrimination and of using her medical condition as an excuse to demote her and give her job away.
Nancy Goodspeed claims that while she took medical leave for brain surgery and recovery between February and August this year, the city effectively replaced her with Monique Cotton, a police spokeswoman who demanded to be transferred after alleging former Chief Frank Straub sexually harassed her.
Cotton’s accusation has thrown City Hall into turmoil: Straub was forced to resign; the mayor’s top administrator lied about the reasons behind Cotton’s transfer; and an outside investigation is pending.
Straub has filed a $4 million claim against the city, saying he was denied due process when Mayor David Condon forced him to resign. And Cotton, through her attorney, has suggested she might file a claim if her new job as parks spokeswoman is jeopardized.
When Goodspeed returned to work in August, she was “effectively demoted to being an assistant to her former position,” according to a letter her attorney sent to city officials Monday. She also learned that Cotton, who is 35 years younger, was making $27,000 more than Goodspeed, who had worked for the city for nearly nine years.
Though Goodspeed has not filed an official claim with the city, an action typically followed by a lawsuit, her lawyer, Kevin Roberts, suggested she was prepared for a jury trial.
“If the city forces Ms. Goodspeed to trial, its exposure will easily exceed $1,000,000,” Roberts wrote in a letter delivered Monday to Condon, City Council President Ben Stuckart and Leroy Eadie, the parks director. Instead, Goodspeed wanted to avoid litigation and wanted a “reasonable settlement.”
Roberts asked city officials to respond to his letter by Dec. 21.
Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, declined to respond, saying the city “typically doesn’t comment on pending litigation.”
Though City Administrator Theresa Sanders first described Cotton’s transfer as something the city required following voter approval of the Riverfront Park bond, and called Cotton’s pay raise an “enticement,” records later showed that Cotton had hired a prominent lawyer to back her in her claim for a new, better-paid position at City Hall.
Condon has defended the transfer as dictated by city policy. An investigation into the matter has been launched by Condon and the City Council.
In the request for a settlement, Goodspeed alleges unfair labor practices and that the city violated the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Washington’s Law Against Discrimination, the state Family Leave Act, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects medical records.
Late last year, a jury found the city violated laws protecting disabled people when it fired Liane Carlson, who had suffered a stroke. The city was ordered pay Carlson $226,000 in back pay and $4,000 for emotional distress, according to the verdict, which found that Carlson’s disability was a “motivating factor” for her dismissal by the city.
Roberts cited Carlson’s case as precedent for what Goodspeed faced.
“We are hopeful that unlike that case, the city will take responsibility for its violations of the law and will not force a lawsuit in order for Ms. Goodspeed to be treated fairly,” Roberts wrote.
“They violated so many laws,” Roberts said in an interview. “She’s the one that has really been run over by the train. It’s almost like the city discriminated against her to find somebody else a spot.”
This year, Goodspeed underwent two brain surgeries as a result of Parkinson’s disease. The day before her second surgery, on May 5, the city announced Cotton’s transfer to parks.
In a statement that day, Condon said, “Telling an engaging story requires someone experienced in bringing a vision to life. Monique has had great success doing that during her time with the Spokane Police Division.”
Roberts suggested such timing was poor.
“Ms. Goodspeed simply did not know that during the time she was preparing for and enduring surgery, that her job was being offered up as a part of political maneuvering,” Roberts wrote in the letter. “Her job had in fact been stolen from her in violation of numerous state and Federal laws.”
When Goodspeed urged officials to allow her to perform her previous duties, Roberts said, she was “subjected to retaliation and unlawful demands for medical tests and certifications.” The city also shared her medical information with other employees “in violation of HIPAA and common decency,” the letter says.
When Goodspeed announced her retirement last month, Eadie, the parks director, denied that Cotton had replaced her.
“We didn’t have her moving out of the areas that she had previously worked in. She hasn’t been to a full schedule since being on medical leave,” Eadie said. “I didn’t have any vision of having her work on things dramatically different than what she has in the past.”
Goodspeed denies this. Instead, she said, city officials requested all of her medical records, as well as a neuropsychological examination. Viewing such demands as a violation of her rights, Goodspeed refused and gave notice that she was leaving the city “to avoid retaliation.”
“She was toward the end of her career but was looking forward to the next two to five years and finishing out her retirement,” Roberts said. “We’re asking them for once to take some accountability.”
Meanwhile, earlier this month, park officials said they’ll be taking applications for Cotton’s job in the parks department. Eadie, the parks director, said that “was the plan all along.”
But Cotton’s attorney, Bob Dunn, disagrees.
“If they move a sexual harassment victim to another job, which they are required to do, and they decide to move her to a different position just 18 months later, or decide to eliminate her position, or send her walking, that’s not a fix,” Dunn said. “She’s being retaliated against as the victim.”
Dunn suggested a claim might be appropriate if Cotton loses her position in the parks department.
“Will there be a claim? I’m not speaking for my client, but nine out of 10 times, that’ll be the case,” Dunn said.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.