Former deputy files suit, accuses King County sheriff of discrimination

King County Sheriff John Urquhart.

SEATTLE — Another lawsuit was filed Monday against King County citing that Sherriff John Urquhart discriminated against and wrongfully terminated a female sergeant in 2013.

The suit involves Andrea Alexander, now 56, who was a 26-year veteran of the department that is since retired. She was fired in 2013 for dishonestly, but that termination was later changed to a 20-day suspension and she rejoined the Sheriff’s Office in 2016. Alexander retired earlier this year.

Alexander’s attorney alleges that Alexander suffered mistreatment at the hands of Urquhart due to the fact that she is female, black and gay. This is the third lawsuit which alleges that Urquhart unfairly targets female officers, all involving the same law firm.

In a statement released Wednesday, the sheriff's office refutes Alexander's allegations and said "at no time during the internal investigation, Loudermill, or arbitration proceedings, had Alexander ever raise[d] charges of discrimination or retaliation, nor did her labor representatives, the King County Police Officers Guild."

The lawsuit states that in 2013, Alexander was unfairly disciplined by Capt. Sean Ledford and Major Jerrell Wills and that she was being removed from her position as a PTO Sergeant; she was replaced by a white colleague with “significantly less experience.”

Eight months after being removed from her position, Alexander was reinstated after it was determined that removing her from her position was “discriminatory and unlawful.” However, it came to light that Alexander had mistakenly been overpaid a monthly stipend of $240 in the interim and she then became the subject of an internal investigation, which eventually led to her dismissal.

Alexander admitted that she was dishonest in not disclosing the overpayments she received and an arbitrator found that while she may have been untruthful, being terminated from her position was unreasonable.

The lawsuit also includes examples from 2013 that King County financial employees provided of other individuals who received overpayments and were not terminated.

“It was and is well known within the KCSO that Sheriff Urquhart has engaged in a pattern of vindictive and retaliatory acts against women, and gay women, who speak out in protest to the unlawful actions of command staff,” the lawsuit states.

In a response, Uruqhart’s office noted that in 2013 she was removed from her post by Major Willis, who also is African American. Urquhart’s spokeswoman, Sergeant Cindi West, said it was after a 2013 hearing “where Alexander failed to take any responsibility for her actions” that Major Brad Thompson and Chief Deputy Anne Kirkpatrick changed their recommended discipline from demotion to termination.

Alexander’s attorney, Julie A. Kays, and the firm she works for, Connelly Law Offices, is also involved in the sexual abuse lawsuit filed against Mayor Ed Murray.

After Alexander returned to work and made repayment of the monies she was overpaid, the lawsuit alleges that she “continued to be subjected to retaliatory acts by the Sheriff and his commanding officers when, after she was ordered to be reinstated, she was shuffled around to different assignments, treated differently than her peers. The retaliatory conduct took a great personal and professional toll on Alexander which resulted in her being forced to retire sooner than expected.”

Urquhart, who has denied the allegations raised in the lawsuits, told The Seattle Times last month that he wanted to take the case to trial.

"I did not take part in the negotiations because I was adamantly opposed to any settlement before trial," his statement said after one of the settlements.

King County has settled two previous lawsuit involving one male and two female plantiffs, costing the county $2.35 million.