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Attorney: Library security guards’ alleged harasser still employed by Seattle

(Photo via Seattle Municipal Archives)
LISTEN: Seattle library security guards' alleged harasser still employed by city

The City of Seattle will pay $220,000 to two former Seattle library security guards after they said they were sexually harassed by a coworker and a manager, The Seattle Times reported.

Yolanda Cooper and Michelle Chun Fook accused their manager, Harry “Joe” Fithian, of unwanted kissing and failing to investigate claims against their coworker, Robert Gautschi. The women accused Gautschi of using racial slurs and of holding Chun Fook on his lap and spanking her against her will.

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“They didn’t really know what to do. They were afraid to cross their manager. He’s somebody who had already been killing complaints about one of their coworkers. They thought, if he’s taking care of a coworker like that he’s certainly going to take care of himself,” Paul Woods, the attorney representing Cooper and Chun Fook in the lawsuit they filed in 2016, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

When Gautschi pulled Chun Fook down and spanked her during a library event, she told her direct supervisor. That supervisor then reported it to Fithian, who allegedly did not take the report seriously. The 2016 lawsuit against the two men states that Fithian even jokingly made mention of “birthday spankings.”

“It was a situation where you complain, your complaints go up to the boss, and the complaints disappear,” Woods said.

Although Gautschi was charged with fourth-degree assault and fired, Fithian is still employed by the city. He now works as a security manager at Seattle Public Utilities.

“Instead of firing the guy, instead of banning him from working at the City of Seattle, they let him go supervise people in a different department of the city,” Woods said.

The women, on the other hand, had to quit. As one of the terms of the settlement, they agreed to leave the library and never work for the city again.

Removing victims of harassment from their workplaces is a common term of settlement agreements in employment harassment cases, Woods said. It eliminates the possibility of any retaliation against the victims in the future.

“From my point of view, the way to make sure that you don’t get frivolous whistleblower retaliation claims against you is just to stop harassing people. Treat people fairly. Don’t protect the harassers. Don’t give them jobs in new parts of the city where they’re still supervising people,” Woods said.

Woods also responded to a comment Seattle City Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Kimberly Mills gave in defense of the city. “There is no Harvey Weinstein on the loose in the city,” Mills wrote in an email, The Seattle Times reported.

“When you’re keeping people employed who are hiding and protecting harassers, that sounds like a Harvey Weinstein type to me. I know that the victims in these cases aren’t some high profile celebrities, but who cares. These are real people. And the folks who have mistreated them absolutely are still with the City of Seattle,” Woods said. “I don’t want people like this running my city, my home. I want people like Ms. Chun Fook and Ms. Cooper, people who stand up against harassment. I want them to be employed by this city.”

Listen to the full Paul Woods interview here.

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