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Judge denies request for sanctions against NKF&R lawyer in harassment case

POULSBO — Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton denied an attorney’s request that North Kitsap Fire & Rescue’s attorney be sanctioned for alleged delays in presenting documents in a harassment lawsuit against the agency.

Thomas Boothe, attorney for plaintiff Tamara Dotson, accused NKF&R attorney Wade Neal of not expeditiously responding to the plaintiff’s requests for discovery materials — information that is essential for the preparation of the requesting party's case and that the other party alone knows or possesses.

Neal’s response: More than “10,000 pages of discovery materials and extensive discovery responses detailing NKFR’s specific knowledge of the facts underlying Dotson’s claims have been provided.”

A trial date has not been set; the case could involve as many as 54 witnesses, according to court records.

Neal wrote to the court, “The defense has substantially complied with the Court’s order as quickly as possible given the large scope of the request,” and put some of the blame for delays on Boothe.

The case was filed in March 2010; since then, Boothe has “self-imposed many absences from the Court schedule and let the case lie inactive for over a year,” Neal wrote. In addition, Boothe admitted during oral arguments “that the language he used to craft several of the discovery requests was ‘too broad,’ and struck several of his motions at that time.”

In her March 10 decision, Dalton wrote that both attorneys failed to provide information to the other, contributing to the delays. One request by Neal to Boothe “went unanswered,” Dalton wrote. And Neal’s request for more time to respond to the discovery requests “should have been worked out between the parties before the deadline of Nov. 15 or brought to the court before that date.

She added, “I also note that the discovery battles have been ongoing for a while, but the parties appeared willing to communicate better in the future following their presentations at the hearing in December.

“Considering the history presented here, and the fact that both parties have contributed to the discovery problem, this court denies the request for sanctions.”

Dotson accuses several NKF&R officers of frequently making gender-biased remarks and sexual comments about women, including a firefighter’s daughter. She seeks attorney’s fees, reimbursement of costs, and “such other and further relief as this Court deems just and equitable.”

Dotson was a firefighter for NKF&R from January 1999 to July 2009 — first as a volunteer firefighter, and from November 2001 to July 2009 as a full-time firefighter/paramedic. She is now a physician’s assistant. She filed a claim with NKF&R in January 2010 and filed the lawsuit two months later.

In the complaint, Dotson claims she was the subject or witness of harassing behavior in approximately 14 instances. NKF&R denied the allegations in a response filed in July 2010.

According to court records, the case was stalled while Dotson sought employment and then attended school to become a physician’s assistant. Neal requested on Sept. 27 that the lawsuit be dropped; Dalton denied the request. “It’s clear to me the plaintiff intends to pursue her complaint,” she said at the time.

In an earlier interview with the Herald, NKF&R Chief Dan Smith said he became aware of the allegations only after the claim was filed.

“Once we became aware of those allegations, we did investigate it and brought in some additional training so our employees know that that kind of behavior, if it did happen, that that’s not tolerated,” he said.

Smith said an outside investigator found “some of those alleged comments weren’t necessarily directed at [Dotson],” and that some of the alleged comments “were things she heard either second-, third- or fourth-hand.”

HR director Cindy Moran, whose husband is one of the accused, said in an earlier interview “we chose to counsel and educate” those accused in the complaint. She said they were advised that the department has a no-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment. But no one was disciplined because “the investigation was inconclusive.”

Moran said the department hired an outside educator to conduct training in sexual discrimination and harassment, and employees now participate in online training and are required to take and pass a test annually.

Moran said the department has “always had a harassment policy in place.” Employees can address inappropriate behavior or comments with the offending co-worker “and if that’s not comfortable, take it to their supervisor.”

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