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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Parks supervisor, accused of harassing gay employee, to receive $100,000 settlement

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 17, 2019

Spokane City Council approved a $100,000 settlement for a Spokane Parks and Recreation Department supervisor who was fired for his behavior toward a gay subordinate. Riverfront Park, which the department oversees, is shown on Sept. 13. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane City Council approved a $100,000 settlement for a Spokane Parks and Recreation Department supervisor who was fired for his behavior toward a gay subordinate. Riverfront Park, which the department oversees, is shown on Sept. 13. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A parks supervisor who had been punished for his behavior toward a gay subordinate has reached a $100,000 settlement with the city of Spokane.

Adriano Eva, who will return to work with the city in January, was demoted and then laid off in December 2018 after city officials found he had violated harassment policies by questioning his assistant about his sexuality.

Eva, 48, filed a claim for $2.8 million in damages against the city in June after the city’s Civil Service Commission unanimously found he did not violate city policy and ordered he be reinstated. He requested 18 months in back pay and additional costs he incurred, such as professional counseling and legal fees.

The claim was settled through mediation and narrowly approved by the Spokane City Council on Monday in a 4-3 vote.

As part of the settlement – which was not publicly released prior to Monday’s vote – the city admits no wrongdoing and Eva drops his rights to pursue the claim any further.

“It is finished, and he’s going to do a great job. He was a high performer prior to this, and I hope the city recognizes him and lets him come back without any prejudice,” said Marshall Casey, Eva’s attorney.

Eva’s return to his role as recreation supervisor was not contingent on the council’s approval of the settlement, according to city officials. Eva could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Councilwoman Karen Stratton, a regular advocate for city employees, supported the settlement and lamented that Eva has reportedly been subjected to personal threats.

“What you read in the paper – there’s always two sides to every story. I’m not saying what happened was right, but I’m saying it’s another situation where there are conflicting opinions on how this was handled and how it was decided,” Stratton said.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear was one of three council members to reject the settlement. She understood the city likely stood to save money by settling but said, “The piece I don’t support was the way it was handled.” She expressed doubt the city has adequate harassment policies in place.

“I don’t support essentially rewarding someone for bad behavior. Going forward, I’m not sure we’ve done all that we can do to make sure that it doesn’t reoccur,” Kinnear said.

As part of the agreement, Eva will attend training that includes “sexual harassment prevention, workplace harassment prevention and overcoming unconscious bias in the workplace.”

The city’s Human Resources Department began investigating Eva in October 2018 when Conor Wigert, his assistant at the time, voiced discomfort about the way Eva regularly raised his sexual orientation in conversation and with colleagues.

The behavior started shortly after Wigert began in the job, he wrote to human resources, when Eva claimed he knew Wigert was gay and asked him questions such as “how it worked to be attracted to another man.”

Wigert wrote that Eva said “he has love in his heart for all people, but that he believes what the Bible says.” He also relayed a story to Wigert about a gay couple in his native country of Brazil that would trade haircuts for sexual favors from underage boys, equating homosexuality with pedophilia, according to Wigert.

Eva was demoted to a nonsupervisory role in December 2018, following the city’s investigation into his conduct, which found he had violated general harassment and sexual harassment policies. Because there were no open positions at that level, Eva was promptly laid off, meaning he was no longer employed by the city but retained the right to a job if one were to become available.

Eva appealed his dismissal to the city’s Civil Commission, which unanimously ruled Eva must be reinstated. The commission’s four-member panel found the city had failed to prove Eva’s behavior violated city policy, was unwelcome or that he was willfully violating its harassment policies.

Following a two-day hearing, the commission ruled the city “did not demonstrate that the conversations and activities were unwelcome or unwanted. Furthermore, testimony and evidence from various email messages, when read in their entirety, does not demonstrate retaliation or insubordination.”

Casey lamented that the conversation by City Council members– and reporting by The Spokesman-Review and other outlets leading up to the settlement vote on Monday– “reflected nothing of the actual findings of the commission, the case that went down and the actual facts.”

“(The city) tried to enforce rules that don’t exist,” Casey said.

Eva brought the claim against the city in June, alleging the city’s investigation was incomplete and biased, and that he was discriminated against for his religious beliefs.

The claim alleged the city’s human resources department failed to interview either of the two witnesses Wigert cited as having firsthand knowledge of conversations between Wigert and Eva.

It also excoriated leaders in City Hall for their stance in an April 25 article that revealed Eva had previously been investigated in 2014 for his relationship with an employee less than half his age. Though human resources drafted a report, it resulted in no punishment for Eva, according to the Inlander.

The city reinstated Eva in April, but placed him on paid administrative leave while it appealed the Civil Service Commission’s decision. He has remained on leave in the months since April, but is set to return to work in January.

Eva earned a salary of $70,929 in 2019.

Councilman Breean Beggs said he takes “no solace in voting for this,” but argued the city has appealed the decision to the fullest extent possible and only stood to pay additional attorney fees.

“At this point, I believe the city did what they could to speak out and act against this behavior, and they lost. At this position, we need to protect taxpayer dollars,” Beggs said.

Councilman Mike Fagan argued the city “didn’t take into consideration a cultural difference.”

Wigert is no longer employed by the city, but told The Spokesman-Review earlier this month that his departure was not directly related to the incident with Eva.

“I’m not concerned that they won’t take all the steps to make sure it doesn’t happen moving forward. It’s just disheartening for the precedent it sets in general,” Wigert said. “Having gone through it now, I understand why it’s so hard to say anything in the first place.”

Casey alleged the actions taken against Eva were the manifestation of a “political view” among city officials and not based on the city’s actual policies. If the city wants to make punishable when “someone feels offended,” he warned, “I don’t think many people will choose to work in such an environment.”

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