SPOKANE, Wash. — During a special meeting on Tuesday, the Spokane Regional Health District Board approved a settlement with a former employee who alleged discrimination and retaliation.
Kyle Unland, who served as the health district's former Division Director of Health Promotion, filed a lawsuit on July 2, 2020. He claimed he was fired after raising concerns with human resources about being discriminated against because of his gender and race, as a white man.
After an executive session, Millwood Mayor and Board Member Kevin Freeman introduced the motion to accept the proposed settlement with Unland and authorize SRHD Administrative Officer Amelia Clark to sign and execute the agreement. It was unanimously approved.
In a statement sent to KREM, Unland said the lawsuit "has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties," adding that he is "not authorized to discuss it."
This comes as the health district continues to face scrutiny following the firing of former Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz. Clark asked Lutz to resign from his position in late October 2020, citing "performance issues. In early November, the board voted 8-4 to fire Lutz during a special meeting.
Immediately after the vote to fire Lutz, the board voted unanimously to replace him temporarily with Dr. Francisco "Frank" Velazquez. The health district is now searching for a permanent replacement.
Unland sues SRHD for discrimination, retaliation
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 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 lawsuit 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 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 SRHD's 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 lawsuit says the HR director notified Clark about the discussion and she later notified Ben Wick, who serves as chairman of the 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.
The lawyer for SRHD and Clark 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.”