For immediate release
For more information contact:
Rhonda Rosenberg, Director of Communications
King County Housing Authority
Allegations against KCHA 'not supported by the facts'
Affordable-housing organization unequivocally stands for equity and inclusion
Three former employees of the King County Housing Authority (KCHA) have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging that the KCHA workplace culture perpetuates discrimination against women and people of color.
KCHA takes charges of inappropriate workplace conduct very seriously, and it treated the complaints with sensitivity and urgency when they were made. A thorough, independent investigation found no evidence of unlawful conduct or conduct in violation of KCHA’s workplace policies. Consistent with its mission and policies, KCHA supports and protects the rights of all employees to a workplace free of discrimination, harassment or retaliation.
“While we can certainly continue to improve our culture, these claims by valued former team members were thoroughly investigated and are simply not supported by the facts,” said interim KCHA Executive Director Dan Watson. “This lawsuit is truly unfortunate.”
The King County Housing Authority unequivocally stands for equity and fairness. It has existed to provide affordable housing solutions in our community for more than eight decades, and equity has been central to our commitment – particularly over the past 25 years. A respectful and inclusive workplace has been integral to KCHA’s success as an organization in providing high-quality, affordable housing for nearly 25,000 low-income households throughout King County.
Here are the specifics:
In April 2020, Helen Howell and Jill Stanton, members of the KCHA executive team at the time, sent an email to the full KCHA executive team describing the KCHA workplace culture as hostile and alleging discrimination and retaliation. Because the email included allegations regarding their treatment by the Executive Director, he immediately forwarded it to the Chair of KCHA’s Board of Directors so the Board could conduct an independent investigation.
The Board engaged an independent third-party investigator, MFR Law Group, to fully explore these and additional claims lodged by Howell, Stanton, and later a third employee, Jennifer Ramirez Robson. The Board also engaged a human resources consulting firm, Compensation Connections, to conduct a race- and gender-equity audit of KCHA’s compensation policies and practices.
Led by MFR Principal and Founder Marcella Reed, a legal professional with 30 years’ experience in employment law and workplace investigations, the team investigated the claims made by the three former employees by interviewing more than 50 current and former staff members and reviewing close to 10,000 pages of documentation. MFR found no violations of the law, no violation of KCHA’s standards of conduct, no evidence of discriminatory treatment or harassment, and no retaliation against Howell, Stanton or Ramirez Robson by the agency or its leadership.
Compensation Connections’ audit found no pattern of gender or racial discrimination in compensation but identified two pay disparities to be addressed. The audit also recommended steps KCHA could take to improve its pay practices. The conclusions of this report were shared with the staff, and KCHA is implementing the recommendations. Additionally, in December 2021 KCHA completed a multi-year engagement with compensation consultant Baker Tilly that included conducting a market compensation study, job description redesign, job classification realignment and pay band restructure. The resulting policy changes, protocol updates and pay adjustments were implemented Jan. 1, 2022.
Because equity and fairness are critically important to KCHA, the Board and management team have continued their ongoing commitment to enhance racial and gender equity within the organization. KCHA has taken the following voluntary steps as a component of its equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives for both staff and residents:
- Supporting staff-led diversity and work-environment committees dating back to 2004 that raise equity opportunities, create pathways for employees to share concerns and champion training and cultural-awareness events
- On top of a longstanding history of providing diversity, unconscious bias, ethical conduct, inclusion, and anti-harassment training, implementing additional practices and trainings that support diversity, equity and inclusion
- Hired a Senior Director of Equity Diversity & Inclusion, who serves on the Executive Team, on July 12, 2021
- Implementing additional practices and trainings that support diversity, equity and inclusion
- Developing an equity, diversity and inclusion dashboard with key EDI metrics along with regular reviews of compensation and promotion policies and practices
- Improving the process for filling and supporting leadership level positions
- Inviting employees to provide ideas and feedback for how KCHA can foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace
KCHA and its Board stand by the conclusions of the investigations and by the steps they have announced and continue to implement. Equity, diversity and inclusion will continue to be central to our work and our commitment to those we serve – well into the future.
About King County Housing Authority
KCHA, an independent municipal corporation established under state law, assists nearly 25,000 households in the Seattle metropolitan region on a daily basis. The Authority administers rental housing assistance, develops and manages affordable housing, provides support services to low-income residents, and works closely with community stakeholders to address local priorities such as ending homelessness, improving educational outcomes for the region’s low-income youth, and assuring that disabled and elderly households can live with dignity.