June 26, 2018
Today a King County jury found that managers at the Washington State Department of Transportation are guilty of retaliation against Stacy Trussler, a former director who was “disability separated” by WSDOT management in 2016. The jury awarded Ms. Trussler $1.2 million in damages and recommended that she be reinstated to a comparable position at WSDOT with protections against further retaliation.
Ms. Trussler is an experienced civil engineer with a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Washington State University (1993). She joined WSDOT in 1995, and in 2010 she was promoted to Director of the WSDOT Urban Planning Office (UPO). The UPO was responsible for representing the Transportation Secretary at regional boards and county-wide forums, and as the Director of UPO, Ms. Trussler did so and led three technical teams: travel demand modeling, corridor planning studies, and transportation systems analysis.
In October 2012, Ms. Trussler suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident, and after she returned to work she was informally accommodated by her then manger, Brian Smith, who permitted Ms. Trussler to telecommute, rest as needed, and to have a flex schedule until he retired in February 2014. Under Mr. Smith, Ms. Trussler had positive performance evaluations before and after her accident.
Ms. Trussler alleged in her complaint and at trial that after Mr. Smith retired, the newly hired Assistant Secretary for Economy and Community, Amy Scarton (who is currently the assistant secretary for the Washington State Ferries Division), harassed, retaliated, and discriminated against her owing to her disability, and that Kerry Woehler, Mr. Smith’s replacement (who is currently the WSDOT planning manager), also engaged in harassment, retaliation, and discrimination, which included cutting off Ms. Trussler’s telecommuting rights after Ms. Trussler reported discrimination against her and another employee, both of whom were disabled and telecommuting as accommodations long before Ms. Scarton was hired. The jury found for Ms. Trussler on her retaliation claim.
The Honorable Jim Rogers presided over the three-week jury trial. The jury deliberated for a total of two days before reaching its verdict, which included lost wages totaling $600,000.00 and emotional harm damages totaling $600,000.00. The jury also recommended that Ms. Trussler be reinstated. Jack Sheridan, the attorney representing Ms. Trussler, said, “The decision as to whether reinstatement is appropriate will be decided by Judge Rogers at a later date.”
Mr. Sheridan said, “This has been a terrible ordeal for Stacy. She is so grateful for the jury’s verdict. After trying for years to get someone at WSDOT to listen to her complaints, the jury’s attention and understanding are everything to her.”
Mr. Sheridan said, Ms. Trussler testified that by October 2014, she was so upset with the conduct of Ms. Scarton, Ms. Woehler, and Human Resources, that she called the WSDOT Assistant Secretary of Strategic, Enterprise Services, Katy Taylor, and reported what she believed to be misconduct amounting to discrimination and fraud.
At trial, Ms. Taylor could not recall most of the facts, so most of her written statement was read to the jury (see below). She admitted that she did not follow up on Ms. Trussler’s report, and that she told the substance of the report to the persons identified by Ms. Trussler as having engaged in misconduct.
Mr. Sheridan said, “Beginning in January 2015, Ms. Trussler was sent home on what plaintiff alleged were trumped up charges of time card fraud, and while she was gone with orders not to communicate with anyone other than WSDOT Director of Human Resources Jeff Pelton, the management team dismantled the UPO, so when she returned in June, after it became obvious that she would be vindicated, she was subject to a “lay-off” of just one person (Ms. Trussler ) and all of her direct reports were assigned elsewhere. She was then placed in another job that would soon also be eliminated and after that placement she was told she could not perform the job owing to her disability. She was later “disability separated” in February 2016. Except for a brief homework assignment in June, from June 2015 to February 2016, she was never placed in a job.”