White Woman Whose City Pay Was Frozen Responds to Discrimination Claims
Karen Selander, whose reassignment to the Department of Neighborhoods at a higher pay rate than her new coworkers has become an issue in the reappointment of DON director Bernie Matsuno, speaks.
As we reported earlier this week, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Director Bernie Matsuno's reappointment to her position, which was scheduled to take place in April, has been placed on indefinite "hold" by the city council after allegations that she discriminated against minority employees, including longtime DON project manager Allynn Ruth, who is African-American, when she hired a white woman, Karen Selander, who had worked at the city's Office of Economic Development, at a higher salary than current DON workers.
(Matsuno claimed that Selander, a 13-year city veteran, was in danger of being laid off because of the recession.)
Ruth has charged Matsuno with discrimination, and has filed a complaint with the city; that complaint is currently under arbitration between the union that represents Ruth, IFTE Local 17, and the city. Selander's salary, meanwhile, has been frozen until other employees' salaries catch up in a few years.
Matsuno, who is reportedly a difficult manager who has little direct contact with her employees, has also acknowledged that she has failed to implement the city's Race and Social Justice guidelines at DON despite being aware of those guidelines for more than a year, telling council members in April that she couldn't explain why she hadn't put the guidelines in place back in 2012.
The guidelines would have likely impacted the hiring process for the position Selander ultimately took. "Could we have done more in 2012 to encourage people from within the department to apply for that position?" Matsuno told the council's neighborhoods committee. "Probably."
Yesterday, Selander called us to give her side of the story.
She told PubliCola that, contrary to what Matsuno told the council in its public hearing, Selandar had not been in danger of being fired, but wanted to leave OED for "more challenging" work elsewhere in the city. And while she dismissed Ruth's allegations of racism on Matsuno's part, she says the right thing to do—and a decision that would have been Matsuno's prerogative, contrary to Matsuno's claim to the council committee that she had no choice—would have been to increase the pay of everyone in her division (a total of four other people) instead of freezing hers.
Besides, she says, one condition of her new employment was that she would make the same salary—and collect the same benefits, including retirement—as she did in her old job classification.
Things came to a head, Selander says, when the other employees in her division (but not Selander, who only recently joined the union) joined Local 17 and found out she was getting paid more. When she approached the city's personnel department, she says, she told them that "I had more seniority" than her coworkers.
At that point, she says, she and Ruth "agreed to work together with the assistance of the union," even though she was not unionized. "That was Bernie’s decision, and it was a huge mistake on her part, Selander says. "She's not supporting her own employees. ... Allynn and I are united behind the idea that Bernie Matsuno is not a good manager. ... It's just this culture of not supporting their employees. They hire from the inside a lot. It's just a stifling envionment.
"The point where I got involved was when Bernie said she was saving me from layoffs"—a claim Matsuno made repeatedly back in April—"and the truth is that I wouldn’t have been laid off ,because I had more seniority than two other people with my classification." Because of Matsuno's decision, she says, "I've lost all my seniority. My pay is frozen for years to come."
Selander says Local 17 has told her they can't do anything about her situation because she wasn't represented by the union when the alleged violation took place; earlier this week, both neighborhoods committee chair Sally Bagshaw and Mayor Ed Murray's office confirmed that Matsuno's reconfirmation has indefinitely been put on hold.
Matsuno has not returned calls for comment.