The City of Edmonds has paid former City of Edmonds Human Resources Director Debi Humann $91,177 for back pay and associated legal costs following her firing by former Edmonds Mayor Mike Cooper in 2011. The Edmonds City Council approved the payment in June pursuant to an order by a federal administrative law judge.
Humann sued the city in federal court for violation of her civil rights related to her September 2011 dismissal by Cooper. The whistleblower claim filed in October 2011 alleges that her firing was in retaliation for her cooperation with an investigation by the State Auditor into allegations that Cooper approved salary payments to his executive assistant, Kim Cole, for hours not worked.
In January 2012, the City of Edmonds released an 18-page report of an independent investigation into claims by Cole, Cooper’s former assistant, that she faced a hostile work environment and harassment from Humann and others while on the job. The report stated that most of Cole’s claims were unfounded.
Humann alleges that statements made by Cooper prior to her dismissal defamed and slandered her, damaged her reputation, and caused her to suffer loss of future employment opportunities. In addition, the lawsuit names current Mayor Dave Earling, alleging his complicity in the actions initiated by Cooper, and that he followed through with these after taking office in late 2011.
Earling said in a December 2011 news release that after reviewing the retaliation claim brought by Humann against former Cooper, he “was not able to reach a conclusion” that Cooper retaliated against Humann. However, given what Earling called “various apparent misunderstandings” between Cooper and Humann, he said he was giving Humann “the benefit of the doubt.”
“As a result, I am reinstating Ms. Humann as the Human Resources Director for the remainder of the year,” Earling said. “At the end of the year, she will be laid off due to the City Council’s elimination of the position.”
On Dec. 22, 2011. Humann filed a second written whistleblower complaint, asserting that she suffered retaliation when the city eliminated her Human Resources Director position.
In a statement released regarding the payment, Humann’s attorney Cliff Freed said that while they commended the settlement, “we now look forward to clearing Debi’s name and vindicating her whistleblower activities in the federal lawsuit.”
“Debi had a stellar performance record as Human Resources Director,” the statement said. “She was trying to do what was right. Months after she was fired, the City reinstated her and then almost immediately laid her off claiming it lacked funding for the HR Director position. The City must explain why, with over 200 employees, the council voted to eliminate funding for only one position—Debi’s position— when she had just filed a whistleblower claim seeking reinstatement for wrongful termination.”
Edmonds City Attorney Jeff Taraday said in a statement that “it would be inappropriate for the city to comment further on details of pending litigation; however, in light of Ms. Humann’s attorney’s comments, I will say that local legislators make difficult decisions every day.”
“The city’s decision to resolve the administrative proceeding was in no way an admission that Ms. Humann’s termination was unlawful,” Taraday said. “It merely allowed the city to more expeditiously defend the federal lawsuit that Humann filed against the city and its mayors.”
— Larry Vogel and Teresa Wippel contributed to this report