Port Angeles city employee claims sexual harassment by City Council member, seeks $100,000
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City Councilman Brad Collins

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A city employee who has been on paid leave since August is seeking $100,000 in damages, citing sexual harassment by a City Council member and a hostile work environment.

Teresa Lynne Pierce, the city's executive administrative assistant and deputy city clerk, filed a claim Jan. 13 alleging City Council member Brad Collins made inappropriate sexual comments to her and repeatedly looked at her in ways that made her uncomfortable in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

“I have been subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment since 2010 when Brad Collins was appointed to the Port Angeles City Council,” Pierce said in her claim.

In a Saturday prepared statement, Collins said: “I did not say anything that was intentionally personal or offensive to City Council Administrative Assistant Teresa Pierce.”

“It is contrary to good business practices and professional ethics to harass someone for any reason.”

Collins said he had not read Pierce's claim but was familiar with two complaints she had filed against him, one in 2011 and another in 2013.

“I can't talk about the claim because I don't know about it and you need to talk to the city attorney about the claim,” Collins said.

Pierce, who has worked for the city for 12 years, also said in her claim that City Clerk Janessa Hurd had once served as a “safety net” for her around Collins but became “disrespectful and belittling” after Pierce's job title at the city was changed from executive communications coordinator to executive administrative assistant and deputy city clerk in August 2013.

“All of these incidents made me feel violated, tense, nervous, belittled, fearful upset and anxious,” wrote Pierce, 53.

“This interfered with and adversely impacted my working condition from the first inappropriate behavior by Councilman Collins to the final remarks by City Clerk Hurd on August 15,” she said in the claim.

She has filed for long-term disability, she said in the claim.

Pierce did not return phones calls requesting comment Friday or Saturday.

In a Saturday email, Hurd said: “As directed by [my] employer, the City of Port Angeles, I have been directed not to discuss the details of Teresa's claim due to the possibility of further legal action.”

City Manager Dan McKeen said Pierce's hourly wage as of this year is $29.378 and her annual salary about $61,000.

He said Pierce has been using sick leave and vacation time accrued over 12 years since her request for leave was granted in August and estimated that she will run out of accrued time by Friday.

He said her last day working at City Hall was Aug. 17. Pierce said in her claim that she was “placed on medical leave after seeing a therapist and doctor on Aug. 19.”

McKeen declined to discuss the details of the claim because of the possibility of future legal action.

Staff members are discussing the claim with the city's insurance carrier, he added.

Pierce said that Collins, 65, first made an inappropriate comment about her immediately after he was sworn in as a City Council member Jan. 21, 2010.

“Council member Collins said in front of others to, 'Watch out for Teresa when she has her leather whip and high leather boots on,'” Pierce wrote in her claim.

“I felt shocked, discouraged, demeaned and hurt by his comment and immediately felt uneasy and worried.”

Collins said he recalled saying that Pierce would make sure council members were working hard.

“I said that Teresa was known [as a] hard task master and we needed to be doing our due diligence on our council work,” Collins said.

Pierce said that in November 2010, Collins asked her if she was going to be in an upcoming performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and she told him she wasn't a member of the cast.

“[Collins] said that was too bad because he 'would pay good money to see me in my underwear and would just love to watch me perform,'” Pierce said.

Collins said that he had told Pierce he thought it was inappropriate to have what he thought were high school students alongside adults performing in revealing costumes.

“Why she would find it offensive, I don't know,” Collins said. “It was still a light-hearted conversation.

“I just didn't make any personal comments to her.”

Pierce said that in early 2011, Collins asked her if she would, 'be the one to get the pornography off his computer,'” Pierce wrote, adding that he also “glared at me and looked at my chest while he had his tongue partially out.”

Collins said he remembered bringing in the city-provided laptop and asking for help because it was running slow but he did not recall the exact comments he made.

“That was three or four years ago. I can't say I have any knowledge of exactly how it was stated, but I don't think what she said is truthful,” Collins said, adding that he has not glared at her.

Pierce wrote that in late 2011 she went to then-City Manager Kent Myers, City Attorney Bill Bloor and Human Resources Manager Bob Coons with her concerns via a formal complaint, adding that she felt the city at the time was not taking her concerns seriously.

After weeks passed, Pierce wrote, she learned Bloor and Coons had talked with Collins about Pierce's complaint and was assured she would not have any further issues.

Collins said he learned about Pierce's complaint in early 2012 and was told not to communicate with her — which he said he has not done except for small interactions during some City Council meetings.

“I said what she thought was offensive, [that] it certainly wasn't directed at her personally,” Collins said.

“And subsequent to that [interview], I've had hardly any communications with [Pierce] at all,” said Collins, who served as deputy mayor in 2012.

Pierce said she “broke down crying” at a council retreat in February 2012 and “revealed the sexual harassment and hostile work environment openly.”

Pierce wrote that “the sexual harassment ceased for a time” but she still felt apprehensive and stressed at work because she said could never know if Collins might come to her office unannounced.

Pierce wrote that in early 2013 Collins stood “way too close” to her chair while she was looking up an answer to a question from him on her computer.

Pierce also claimed Collins continued to look at her suggestively in May 2013 while the two were at City Hall and that “slowly innuendos began again.”

Pierce said he also “moved back as little as possible so I could barely get by” at a council meeting in or about July that year.

Pierce formally complained a second time. Collins was being interviewed by an attorney from Washington Cities Insurance Authority, the city's insurance carrier, in fall 2013.

“I don't believe there is any truth to the issues in her second complaint,” Collins said.

“What I told the [insurance authority] attorney [was] I had very little communications with Teresa Pierce for about two years.”

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 23. 2014 10:18AM
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