The city of Spokane is fighting an order to reinstate an employee it demoted and later laid off over sexual harassment complaints.
The city is asking the Civil Service Commission to reconsider its ruling that the employee didn’t purposely violate city policies when he asked an employee who reported to him about his sexuality or made jokes about his sexuality.
The city’s Human Resources Department determined that the employee, Adriano Eva, a parks department recreation supervisor, violated city harassment policies by asking about his assistant’s sexuality, telling other employees he was gay and asking inappropriate questions about his sexuality while at work. It also found he retaliated against the same assistant and another employee who participated in the human resources investigation.
Eva, who supervised between two and 20 employees, was demoted in December. He then was laid off because there wasn’t an open position at the level he was demoted to. Later that month, he appealed the decision with the Civil Service Commission, and in April, it voted to reinstate him.
In a letter to Eva, the city wrote that despite the commission’s decision, he was still in violation of its harassment policies and he would remain on paid administrative leave while the city appealed the decision. Eva, who has worked for the city for almost a decade, made about $81,000 in 2018.
The Civil Service Commission is a board made of five appointed members who work to prevent political influence in city hiring and firing, and also hear employee discipline concerns. One board member recused herself from voting, and all of the other board member voted in Eva’s favor.
City Spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the city strongly disagreed with the commission’s decision and may take the case to Superior Court. She said the city hasn’t asked the Civil Service Commission to reconsider a case in years, and most conflicts over employee status are handled by unions, not the Civil Service Commission.
Feist said the city is not opposed to Eva having a parks job if he wouldn’t have to supervise other workers.
In the request for the commission to reconsider its decision, the city’s legal department wrote it was astounded that none of the commissioners thought Eva’s behavior was unbecoming for an officer of the city. It also argued that there was “no legitimate business reason” for Eva to discuss his employees’ sexuality, and as a supervisor, he should know it is inappropriate to ask questions about employees’ sexuality.
During the hearing, Eva’s lawyer, Marshall Casey argued that the city hadn’t proven Eva willfully violated policies, and that workers can have respectful conversations about the differences between them.
In his response to the city, Casey wrote that the commission’s decision was final, and the media coverage, such as allegations published in the Inlander that Eva had behaved inappropriately toward a young female employee in 2014, would bias the commission against Eva.
Conor Wigert, Eva’s former assistant, said it wasn’t his intention when he filed a harassment complaint to get his former boss laid off. He just wanted to be able to do his job.
Wigert said when he first met Eva, his former boss made it clear that friendship and loyalty were requirements to keep his position. When Eva found out that he was gay, he told Wigert he had “love in his heart for all people,” but he believed what the Bible said about homosexuality.
Wigert said some of the most uncomfortable conversations between them happened when Eva was driving them to different parks. He said Eva called those trips the circle of trust where he got to know his employees. While on drives, he said Eva shared how he became a Christian and asked Wigert several questions about what it was like to be gay.
While in the office, Eva would also often introduce Wigert as his “gay assistant” and would make jokes about women or his sexuality while in earshot of others, Wigert said.
Eva declined to comment, and Eva’s lawyer, Casey, said he could not comment outside of the statement he made in Eva’s defense to the Civil Service Commission.
In his statement to the commission, Casey argued that Eva shouldn’t have been demoted because his questions and comments were an “honest and sincere” attempt to get to know Wigert better. He said Eva also didn’t violate harassment policies because he wasn’t necessarily aware that the conversations he had with Wigert were unwelcome.
“Personal conversations can be done respectfully. Differences can be done respectfully,” Casey said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.