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Former employee suing Amelia Clark, SRHD for discrimination and retaliation

Kyle Unland claims he was fired after he raised concerns with HR about being discriminated against because of his gender and race, as a white man, the lawsuit says.

SPOKANE, Wash — The controversy surrounding the firing of Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz has uncovered other possible issues within the Spokane Regional Health District.

Lutz said he was fired by SRHD Administrative Officer Amelia Clark on Thursday and he has been denied access to the health district building. He said he was also offered a severance package, which he’s refused.  Lutz said he plans to pursue all “available legal remedies” if the Spokane Board of Health votes to terminate his position.

Lutz isn’t the only former employee who’s contacted a lawyer about termination of their employment.

The Health District’s former Division Director of Health Promotion Kyle Unland filed a lawsuit on July 2, 2020, according to court documents. He claims he was fired after he raised concerns with human resources about being discriminated against because of his gender and race, as a white man, the lawsuit says.

Unland spoke with KREM 2's Amanda Roley about the lawsuit and what is happening to Lutz.

"I was really, really troubled to see what happened to him," he said. "You know as something that happened to me when I saw it, it's like, 'Wow that looks really familiar.'"

The lawsuit says Unland held his position since June 2010 where he oversaw more than 15 programs designed to reduce chronic diseases, managed a multi-million dollar budget, supervised more than 50 employees, and oversaw and wrote grants and funding proposals.

Unland was previously employed at the Washington State Department of Health Section Manager for nine years for the Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention Department, according to the suit. Overall, the lawsuit says Unland has 26 years of experience in public health.

According to the lawsuit, Unland submitted his application to a recruiting agency contracted by SRHD to recruit, select, interview and participate in the hiring decision to fill the vacant SRHD Administrative Officer position in May 2019.

Unland was among seven applicants selected for interviews with the SRHD Board of Health selection committee, according to lawsuit. On June 27, 2019, Unland attended a SRHD Board of Health meeting and learned the top four candidates for the position had been invited to in-person interviews with the committee while he was out of town on SRHD business, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims Unland was not selected for the final interviews because he is a white man. The suit also claims Unland was the best qualified candidate to fill the position.

According to the lawsuit, the final four candidates included three women and a Hispanic man. Only one of the women had experience working for a public health agency and the man had zero years of health experience, the lawsuit says. Three candidates who were not selected for the final four interviews were white men with numerous years of experience working for public health agencies, according to the lawsuit.

On Aug. 9, 2019, the lawsuit says Unland learned through email that Amelia Clark had been chosen for the administrative officer position and had no experience working in a public health agency. The lawsuit says Clark doesn’t have a college degree in health sciences or public health administration.

According to the lawsuit, Unland met with the SRHD human resources director on Jan. 31, 2020 and told her he felt he was discriminated against in the selection process. The HR director told Unland she would bring his concerns to the attention of the SRHD attorney and would get back in touch with him, the suit says.

The lawsuit says the HR director notified Clark about the discussion and she later notified Ben Wick, the Chairman of the SRHD Board of Health, about Unland’s complaints.

Less than two hours after Unland’s discussion with human resources, the lawsuit says Clark sent out an email announcing that she had decided to change the timeline for “action steps for the organizational structure.”

On Feb. 4, 2020, Unland was called into a meeting with Clark and HR where he was told he was being laid-off with pay until Feb. 14 and that his job had been eliminated due to reorganization, according to the lawsuit. During the meeting, Clark show Unland the new organizational chart she had drafted which moved his responsibilities to another division and showed four vacancies on the managerial/executive leadership team, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Unland asked Clark if he could fill the newly created and vacant position of Associate Director of Community and Family Programs. Clark said the new positions were reserved for less experienced employees for the succession planning efforts of the agency, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims Unland was escorted out of the SRHD building without an opportunity to clear out his personal belongings.

In April 2020, the lawsuit says SRHD and Clark selected a younger woman to fill the Associate Director of Community and Family Programs.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and for SRHD to pay for special damages of lost wages, benefits and out of pocket expenses in an amount proven at trial.

SRHD’s and Clark’s lawyer filed a response denying the allegations on July 22 saying, “Defendants’ treatment of Plaintiff was at all times for valid, lawful reasons unrelated to his age, gender, race or alleged participation in protected activity.”   

KREM 2 reached out to SRHD for comment but have not heard back.

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