$900,000 Tort Claim Against Assessor’s Office Alleges Discrimination, Retaliation

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A tort claim filed on May 15 against the Lewis County Assessor’s Office Seeks $900,000 in damages for alleged disability and age discrimination, a hostile work environment and retaliation.

According to the tort claim filed on behalf of Virginia Anne Watson, the incidents took place between July 2014 and February 2015.

“Ms. Watson was discriminated against by Lewis County Assessor Dianne Dorey, who then retaliated against her for filing a (Washington State Human Rights Commission) complaint, all of which culminated in Ms. Watson’s termination in February 2015,” according to the claim.

Dorey said she could not comment on pending litigation, following the advice of her attorney and the county’s risk management department. Contact information for her attorney was not immediately available. 

Watson was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006, and then in 2011 she received a hip replacement, which affected her balance and gait, according to the tort claim.

In 2007, she shared her diagnosis with Lewis County, and Dorey allegedly requested a “fit-for-duty medical examination.” Dorey later rescinded her request following a union letter that stated the examination would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act “since Ms. Watson had not shown any signs that she could no longer perform her job.”

In August 2014, Dorey required Watson to perform the medical examination because of her observed gait in the office, according to the tort claim. She compiled a packet of information for the doctor, which included a job description and physical demands of the job, among other items. The list was contested by a union representative, who voiced his objections to the existing physical demands chart for the position, according to the tort claim.

Watson filed a WSHRC complaint for disability discrimination in September 2014 for the forced examination and for a written warning she received in July 2014. The warning came as a result of GPS units that were installed in the cars used by the appraisers and showed Watson sat in her car in the field for extended periods of time, routed in an inefficient manner and did not leave business cards at properties.

Watson submitted a written rebuttal to the warning that stated she had been performing necessary data entry and research duties while in her car. She said the property she tried to appraise had locked gates and no trespassing signs, which accounted for the inefficient route, and that she did not leave her card at all properties because some were land parcels with no place to do so.

Once Watson completed her medical examination, the doctor’s final report stated she could have difficulties walking on uneven ground and could be at the risk of falling. The report said modifications could be made to some of the activities that would allow Watson to continue in her role.

In November 2014, Watson requested a reasonable accommodation from Lewis County, according to the tort claim, and asked to be assigned to jobs in urban areas and in places where there were fewer hazards such as uneven ground and steps.

She asked that she be allowed to use a cane, and also asked management to understand that she is slower due to her hip replacement and MS.

“Ms. Dorey did not accept this accommodation, screamed at Ms. Watson, and placed her on immediate administrative leave,” Watson claims in the tort claim.

After being placed on administrative leave, Watson filed another WSHRC complaint for retaliation in late November 2014.

The following month, Watson participated in an accomodation analysis and was followed  by a vocational consultant, who shadowed another employee as well. The consultant confirmed Watson performed the same amount of appraisals in the same amount of time, according to the tort claim, but stated “that no accommodation exists that could allow Ms. Watson to safely perform the essential functions of the job.” 

The tort claim states the recommendation that Watson could not perform the essential functions of her job safely even with accommodations was based on Dorey’s “false implication that every appraisal area contains equal hazards, which is fundamentally untrue.”

Following the release of the consultant’s report, Dorey issued Watson a separation agreement and release, which Watson did not accept.

Watson worked for Lewis County for over 27 years, with 17 of those years as an appraiser in the Assessor’s Office.

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