Another Reason I Hate Portland, Oregon…
Bias plaintiffs ask Portland not to appeal suit
Diversity – The City Council votes to challenge the judgment despite the pleas of two women
Thursday, September 14, 2006RYAN FRANK
Two city of Portland employees who recently won a racial discrimination suit against the city pleaded their case again Wednesday. This time, before the City Council.
Lisa Washington and Roxie Granville, both African Americans, asked the council to ignore the city attorney’s advice to appeal. Staring back at them were the five white men of Portland’s City Council.
The contrast was too great to go unmentioned.
“It is an uncomfortable issue,” said Mayor Tom Potter, who’s made improved city diversity a core part of his first term. “I recognize that we are five white males. And I cannot begin to understand all the issues that confront people of color, women, gays and lesbians every day.”
But Potter, along with Commissioners Sam Adams, Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman, approved the appeal. The vote came after city attorneys said the judgment included court errors that could set bad legal precedent.
Washington and Granville’s lawsuit dates to a 1997 incident inside the Bureau of Development Services, where both women work.
The lawsuit claims that supervisors told the women they were “seen together walking down the street” and that it appeared they “were not working.” The supervisors also were concerned they might be going into the field together without a manager’s permission. A supervisor told the women that co-workers thought the women were “being seen together too much” and “there is a policy against this.” But the women say no such policy existed at the time, according to the lawsuit.
At a staff meeting in 2001, a supervisor said the bureau would begin requiring all employees to notify a supervisor before they go into the field. But after the meeting, the policy was enforced only against Granville and Washington, the lawsuit says.
The city says the supervisors didn’t discriminate. In court filings, the city says supervisors talked with Granville and Washington about their job performance but deny it was about the women being seen together too much. The city also denied applying policies only to Granville and Washington.
A jury in June sided with the women, and the judge awarded both $50,000 in damages, plus possible back pay.
The appeal passed the council 4-0 with Commissioner Erik Sten sitting it out, citing a conflict because he’s known Washington since childhood.
Leonard, who runs the bureau, said he wanted to let the verdict stand, but city attorneys persuaded him to support the appeal. “It goes against my grain to appeal,” Leonard said. ” . . . It wasn’t done lightly. But I’m comfortable.”
Granville called the city’s case “lies. Pure lies. Why is that they can’t realize that racism exists here in Portland?
“For the council who is all white males to say it is a technical legal issue . . . it’s insulting.”
Washington said the council had been “bamboozled by the city attorney’s office.”
A few minutes before Wednesday’s vote, the council recognized Portland as a dog town USA. Sheila Walker, who also works in the Bureau of Development Services, said, “It’s really sad to hear someone get up and talk about how wonderful Portland is when it comes to a place for a dog to live. But is it a good place for minorities to live? Is ‘diversity’ just a word on a piece of paper or is it something that the city is really trying to live by?