Sex discrimination suits in director's past

By Sara Bruestle | Jun 26, 2013

The City Council remains divided over the hiring of the city’s new Public Works director after learning he had been named in federal sexual discrimination lawsuits.

Two former employees filed suits against Rob McGaughey, 50, when he was public works director and county engineer at Okanogan County. Others were also named in the lawsuits.

Among the claims, McGaughey was accused of using a bullwhip to intimidate women employees, firing a woman after she stopped a project for safety reasons, and knowingly allowing a female worker to drink coffee from a cup into which another man had urinated.

The suits were settled out of court for $224,000 each in 2006, after which McGaughey left Okanogan County.

“The first two allegations are totally false,” McGaughey said. “The third one, yeah, that happened, but at the time of that incident, I was deployed to Djibouti, Africa. I didn’t know about it.”

Following legal advice, Okanogan County agreed to settle out of court, McGaughey said. The county was originally going to fight the suit, he said.

McGaughey said that when he found out about the urination incident, he notified the human resources director. That employee was put on administrative leave, an investigation occurred, and the county commissioners fired him as a result, he said.

McGaughey replaced former Public Works director Larry Waters, who retired on May 31 after nearly seven years of service. The council approved his appointment June 3 by a vote of 5-2.

The council had voted on May 20 to delay McGaughey’s confirmation until they could meet him.

Councilmember Jennifer Gregerson said the council had not been aware of the Okanogan lawsuits before the scheduled vote. She had found an old news story about the suit on the Internet and asked about it in an executive session.

Gregerson ultimately voted to confirm McGaughey, though she’s had second thoughts since then.

“I voted for him that night because they had done extra research and had talked to other women who had worked in Okanogan, and it seemed like they had come forward with answers to most of the questions.

“More has come out since then, so I definitely question moving forward.”

Councilmembers Kevin Stoltz and Steve Schmalz voted against McGaughey’s approval. Schmalz has asked that the council review the city’s process for hiring department heads. He said councilmembers should be more involved.

“This is an embarrassment the way it was handled,” he said. “We need more transparency in the process.”

Schmalz and Gregerson are both running for mayor this year against Mayor Joe Marine.

Terry Preshaw, a lawyer who is running for City Council against Ted Wheeler, criticized the city administration and the council for hiring McGaughey. She had also done some of her own research and discovered the lawsuits.

“My concern is focused on issues of due diligence,” Preshaw said. “I want to feel as a citizen that my representatives are doing their due diligence with this particular appointment.

“I’m concerned for the women of the city. I don’t want them to end up in a hostile work environment.”

Following the executive session, City Administrator Joe Hannan interviewed several co-workers of McGaughey’s at Okanogan County, including two female employees, and was satisfied that the allegations were false.

“The female employees said that Rob was an excellent manager, respectful to women in the office,” he said. “Both of them felt he went out of his way to listen to their opinion.”

Hannan also spoke with supervisors from his previous jobs, who all echoed the same sentiments: McGaughey was an excellent employee, and they would hire him back if they could.

“I’m comfortable and confident that this is the right person for the job,” Hannan said.

Two panels interviewed seven candidates and narrowed the pool down to three.

The first panel was then Public Works Director Larry Waters and the Lynnwood Public Works director; the second panel was of all of the city department directors and the city administrator.

After final interviews with two candidates, Mayor Marine determined McGaughey was the most qualified. He said he stands by his decision to hire McGaughey.

“There are no facts that have come out that changed my opinion,” he said. “I still think he is a good fit to work here.

“I thought it was political, and I still think it’s political.”

If he could re-do the hiring process, however, Marine said he would hire an outside agency to do background checks on the three candidates. He said he didn’t do that because it would have cost the city up to $20,000.

“I still don’t think I did anything wrong,” he said. “If the council wants to change the process, that’s fine. We’re looking at it.”

Stoltz disagrees.

“The information that we received was inadequate,” Stoltz said. “They’re supposed to do their due diligence and provide us with good information, and I don’t think they did that.”

McGaughey said he had been disappointed by the nature of the discussion at council meetings and that he’s ready to put the issue behind him.

“I’m stepping into a great Public Works department, and I’m here to do my best for Mukilteo,” he said. “I want to make sure the citizens are getting the most for what they pay for. I am excited to be here and roll my sleeves up and do a good job.”

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