A former employee of Washington state’s Special Commitment Center for dangerous sex offenders on McNeil Island is suing the government agency that runs it, alleging that it failed to protect her from workplace sexual harassment by a member of the facility’s leadership.
Kayla Deitch had worked for the Special Commitment Center for about four years in late 2019 when Dr. Darey Philbrick came to McNeil Island as the center’s medical director. Their interactions were initially pleasant and respectful, according to the lawsuit, but that changed after Deitch, Philbrick and coworkers went out after work in March 2020, and Philbrick sent her unsolicited and inappropriate text messages.
Deitch, a Bremerton resident in her 30s, responded neutrally, ignored other texts and avoided him at work but says Philbrick began going out of his way to cross paths with her, stared at her and treated her with hostility. Deitch reported Philbrick’s behavior to Human Resources in January 2021, and months later she learned her complaint had never been forwarded to an investigation unit.
A lawsuit was filed Oct. 16 in Pierce County Superior Court against the Department of Social and Health Services alleging its failure to take any remedial action against Philbrick, 60, created an atmosphere that was demeaning to women and contributed to a hostile work environment.
Morgan Mentzer, an attorney representing Deitch, told The News Tribune her client will seek significant damages due to DSHS’s “systemic, failure to address a repeat harasser.” She said it caused Deitch anxiety, frustration, fear and anger. The harassment led her to take a nearly two-month paid leave of absence in late 2020 and early 2021.
“I think it’s definitely indicative of a systemic issue of women not being listened to, of complaints not being taken seriously,” Mentzer said.
The News Tribune was not able to reach Philbrick for comment, and a spokesperson for DSHS said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
McNeil Island, located west of Steilacoom and north of Anderson Island, has been designated as the site for the state’s total confinement facility for sexual predators since 1998, according to the Department of Corrections. It’s where Level III sex offenders, those considered most likely to re-offend, are housed for civil commitment if they complete their prison sentence and a court determines them to be a sexually violent predator. The island’s former prison facility, which was first built in 1875, was shuttered in 2011.
A Human Resources investigation into Philbrick’s behavior was completed after Deitch went over the heads of HR for the Special Commitment Center and contacted the Employee Investigations Unit of HR for all of DSHS, Mentzer said. According to the lawsuit, when Deitch first reported Philbrick’s behavior to the commitment center’s chief of resident treatment and someone from HR, she was interrogated and made to feel as if she had done something wrong.
The completed investigation showed, according to the suit, that it was well known at the Special Commitment Center that Philbrick acted inappropriately with female employees and had a prior complaint against him for how he treated women. It also purportedly showed that the facility’s culture was generally dismissive of female employees’ concerns.
Before being hired as the medical director, Philbrick worked as a physician for about three years at the Rainier School, another DSHS facility in Buckley which is a habilitation center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A DSHS spokesperson said Philbrick resigned in 2019. He was dismissed from the Special Commitment Center in September 2022 after an internal investigation.
Deitch is also no longer employed by the Special Commitment Center, where she previously worked with individuals with pervasive mental illness, according to her attorney. She changed positions and still works for DSHS.
The texts Deitch initially received from Philbrick included comments such as, “I can find those eyes across an ocean,” and another that read “GD-you’re yummy,” according to the civil complaint. Philbrick asked her for her number under the guise of wanting to send her information about a wine club he used, records state. He allegedly told her to delete one of the texts “before your man sees it.”
The comments made Deitch “extremely uncomfortable,” according to the lawsuit. She requested to have her schedule and work location changed to avoid Philbrick, but her requests were denied, the suit states. She took different buses and ferries to avoid him, but he allegedly changed his route to be on the same bus or ferry as her.
After she first reported Philbrick, their run-ins became more frequent, according to the lawsuit, and he continued to seek Deitch out. Her workdays reportedly became more and more calculated to try to avoid him.
Deitch sent follow-up emails to the Special Commitment Center’s HR department and the chief of treatment she’d met with in January 2021 to ask for intervention and protective measures, but nothing was done.
“This lawsuit really illustrates someone who tried to use resources available to her to protect herself in her job, and the system completely failed her as it had obviously done previously to other women,” Deitch’s attorney said.