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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

County attorney claims employment discrimination a result of being pregnant

Spokane County Courthouse (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane County public defender filed a tort claim and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the Spokane County Public Defender’s Office for allegedly passing her up for two promotions because she was pregnant.

Now she says she’s facing retaliation for taking those actions.

Brooke Hagara, who’s worked at the office for 10 years, says she was the most qualified applicant in two promotional opportunities in June 2015 and last January. But when she took maternity leave for two months early this year, she returned to find out a promotion had gone to a less-qualified male colleague because of his work on a triple-homicide case – the same case Hagara had to temporarily leave due to her pregnancy.

Hagara met with director Thomas Krzyminski, and she claims he told her the case went to her colleague because she had been unwilling to volunteer to take the case with another attorney who was inexperienced in homicide defense. The other attorney “had not questioned him and simply taken the case,” the complaint says.

“The director is setting requirements for certain types of cases for promotion, and he’s also the one that assigns lawyers to those cases,” said Hagara’s attorney, Kevin Roberts. “In terms of that, at least in the county Defender’s Office, the good ol’ boys club is in full effect.”

After her meeting with Krzyminski, Hagara says she was repeatedly scrutinized for her duties while her male colleagues received no such attention. She also claims to have received discriminatory remarks from chief deputy Karen Lindholdt during her pregnancy.

“She repeatedly told me that I may not want to handle as serious of cases, remain in felonies, or even remain at the office after I had the baby,” the complaint says. “I remember asking my husband if anyone had said anything similar to him about what he would want to do after the baby was born, and he laughed and said no one had said anything like that.”

The complaint alleges multiple instances of sexism and gender discrimination of multiple female employees at the office.

Hagara claims instances of male colleagues receiving pay raises while female colleagues had their pay reduced; female attorneys questioned about expenditures; male colleagues with months of experience promoted to supervisory roles above women with years of experience; attorneys forced to sign reports under threat of termination; and female attorneys being told to dress more appropriately while their male colleagues were not, among other complaints.

In response to these claims, Lindholdt read aloud a statement.

“We intend to fully defend because these claims and allegations are untrue,” she said. “As chief deputy, I am the second in command and the first woman to be hired into this significant position in the history of the office. I was hired by director Krzyminski. … This office has always accommodated requests from both female and male lawyers for childbirth and the providing of child care.”

The tort claim Hagara filed in June seeks $500,000 in damages, reflecting the extra amount she would have earned through retirement had she received the promotion, Roberts said. The Defender’s Office has hired an independent investigator to investigate the claim.

Hagara must wait 180 days to file a federal discrimination lawsuit against the county to give the EEOC time to conduct an independent investigation. Roberts said they plan to file a federal suit in December.

Hagara continues to work at the office, where Roberts said Krzyminski and Lindholdt have begun to ostracize her for making the complaints and engage in “witness intimidation” with other employees.

“In the best of all worlds, we wouldn’t need to file litigation on this, the county would just address it,” Roberts said. “Brooke would be placed in the position she should have been placed in, if it wasn’t for the fact that she is a woman who wanted to raise a family. The county should make it clear that women aren’t second-class citizens.”